Dr Eileen Burns, who takes office today as the new President of the British Geriatrics Society, has called for public recognition that older people facing delays in discharge from hospital are the victims of underfunding of social care and not ‘the problem’. Dr Burns is urging members of the public, and media, to reject pejorative terms like ‘bed blockers’ and urge the Government to give social care the priority it deserves.
Dr Burns is only the second female President since the Society was founded in 1947. She has been a consultant geriatrician in Leeds for twenty-two years, and is an expert in community geriatrics. The primary focus of community geriatrics is to reduce admissions to hospital, and prevent delayed discharges and re-admissions, by ensuring that older patients receive adequate and appropriate care within their community.
Accessible social care is a key factor in reducing hospital admissions and delayed discharges for older people. According to research published earlier this month by Age UK, the number of older people in England who don’t get the social care they need has soared to a new high of 1.2 million – up by a staggering 48% since 2010. There is a direct correlation between these statistics and the latest data from NHS England which found that delayed discharges are at their highest level since records began in 2010, with the number of delayed days in September reaching 196,246. It is this lack of support for older people in their homes and communities, rather than patient or physician choice, which has led to such high numbers of hospital admissions and delayed discharges, which has in turn put tremendous pressure on an already overburdened acute sector.
Dr Eileen Burns commented: “The vast majority of older patients would prefer to be in the comfort of their own home when they feel well enough, and some are actively distressed at having to stay in hospital. The term ‘bed blocker’ in no way conveys the true situation and lack of choice these patients are facing. As physicians our hands are also tied as we are unable and unwilling to send patients home without the knowledge they will be safe and receive the care they need. Patients who experience delayed discharge are not the problem; they are the victims of underfunded social services and deserve our understanding and respect. Without adequate funding we will continue to have high numbers of delayed discharges and I would urge both the Government, and the general public, to understand this vital connection between health and social care.”