The NHS spends huge amounts treating patients who no longer need to be in hospital. But finally, housing services are beginning to tackle this growing problem. By Helen Rowbottom
Every day thousands of people are stuck in hospital who don’t need to be there. Every unnecessary extra day a person spends in hospital adds to their recovery time. As well as a huge personal cost for individuals, these delays have a significant financial cost for the NHS.
There were 456,447 delayed days due to people awaiting a care package in their own home in 2016-17
The National Audit Office estimates that the NHS spends around £820m a year treating older patients who no longer need to be in hospital. There were 456,447 delayed days due to people awaiting a care package in their own home in 2016-17 – a huge increase of 45.3% on the previous year. It’s the biggest cause of delay, although still only accounts for one-fifth of total delays.
And this is only likely to get worse given the predicted surge in the population of older people over the coming years, and the massive increase in demand for both NHS and social care services this will bring.
Homes from home
Delays can happen for any number of reasons. Some people might be waiting for the care package mentioned above so they can return home or for adaptations to be made in their home. Others may not have a safe home to go back to at all.
These are problems that can be fixed. Housing associations can provide the link needed to ensure people are supported out of hospital into a suitable home with the right support.
This support can come in many different shapes and sizes, with solutions tailored to fit specific needs. It could include providing a temporary home for people who cannot return to their own home immediately. It might be seconding staff to a local hospital discharge team to ensure people have the right support to move home, or to help people find a new home if where they were staying before is no longer suitable.
These seemingly small, fairly inexpensive initiatives can have a huge impact on people’s lives and relieve some of the pressure on increasingly stretched health services.
An innovative intervention
I recently visited Look Ahead’s innovative HAWK service at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Croydon, South London. This service is an example of a small intervention that is having a big impact.
Two Housing and Advice Workers (HAWKs) are based at the hospital and work with patients who are identified as having housing problems that might prevent them from returning home when they’re well enough to leave hospital.
This pilot scheme is only in its first year but it’s already having a significant impact. Housing and Advice Workers provide the kind of specialist advocacy and support that nurses and doctors simply don’t have the time or specialist knowledge to do. This could include negotiating with a local authority to secure support with housing, attending viewings with people to help them find somewhere in the private rented sector or helping someone to access supported housing.
There is potential to greatly increase the scale and scope of housing association involvement to ensure support reaches everyone who needs it.
Without this support, patients would end up in hospital for longer than they need to be and would be much more likely to find themselves readmitted to hospital as a result of living in unsuitable housing without the support they need to get better.
There are many more examples from across the country of housing associations partnering with their local NHS Trust to help people out of hospital, back home and on the road to recovery.
Our new report, Home from hospital: How housing services are relieving pressure on the NHS, shines a spotlight on some of these services and demonstrates the significant amount they save the NHS.
There is potential to greatly increase the scale and scope of housing association involvement and contribution to end bed-blocking and ensure support reaches everyone who needs it. Housing associations are ready to work with health commissioners to find the best way of scaling up this work and, in the process, reducing pressure on vital but overstretched NHS resources.