Poor access to home care will leave patients stranded in hospital this winter, NHS leaders warn PM

Boris Johnson

Patients will end up stranded in hospital this winter because arrangements are not in place in the community or care homes to support them, NHS leaders have warned the Prime Minister.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, the NHS Confederation says the NHS will “not have any hope” of clearing the backlog of routine operations unless there is a comprehensive and funded plan for social care services.

It also warns that more patients will end up in emergency departments this winter because they have not been able to access the personal care they need to keep them safe and independent in their own homes.

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This word of caution comes after a recent CQC survey found that a third of hospital patients classed as ‘frail’ are not receiving the support they need to access care at home.

The NHS Confederation has called on the Prime Minister to honour his pledge to fix social care ‘once and for all’ and to set out a timetable for reform which addresses both the immediate crisis and the need to put these services on a sustainable footing.

The letter, signed by members of the Health for Care coalition, which is chaired by the NHS Confederation, asks for immediate action.

“With the potential of a second wave of COVID-19, localised outbreaks, and the challenges of winter ahead, we are now gravely concerned about the ability of social care services to cope,” the letter says.

“These difficulties will be compounded by the need to simultaneously provide care and rehabilitation to patients suffering from the long-term effects of COVID-19 and those who have not had COVID-19 but have experienced a decline in health as a result of shielding during lockdown.” 

This move comes as the NHS has been set stretching targets for resuming services, which had to be paused during the first stage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Health service leaders were already concerned that the targets looked unrealistic, given workforce vacancies, exhausted and burnt out staff and the fact that many services are having to operate at reduced capacity because of the need for social distancing and infection control.  

In June, more than 50,000 patients had been waiting more than a year for their operations, compared to fewer than 2,000 in February. 

Independent analysis estimates that the waiting list for routine procedures could be as high as 10 million by the end of the year.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation and chair of the Health for Care coalition, said: “COVID-19 has highlighted the critical role that social care plays in supporting the NHS, but it has also exposed a fractured, understaffed and underfunded system in desperate need of reform. 

“Social care services urgently need immediate funding to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic and to prepare for the possibility of further localised outbreaks, as well as a long-term plan, which successive governments have failed to deliver. 

“Without this, the NHS will be fighting with one hand tied behinds its back. The Prime Minister has promised to ‘fix social care’, we now need that promise fulfilled.”  

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Sarah Clarke

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