A lack of support for older people after they have been in hospital leaves them vulnerable to readmission, new research has found.
Almost 150,000 people had no support once they returned home and for those who did get some kind of help, a fifth did not receive essential continuing support.
The research, released by charity Royal Voluntary Service (formerly the WRVS), warned that older people can be especially vulnerable and frail following a stint in hospital and it is particularly important that they are supported to manage health conditions and stay independent to prevent readmission.
The charity said 15.3% of those aged over 75 are readmitted to hospital within 28 days of discharge, putting stretched accident and emergency services under more pressure.
The study, carried out by research company PCP on behalf of the charity, found that 23% of older people in Britain discharged after an overnight stay said they felt very vulnerable when they came home, and 8% did not feel able to look after themselves.
But the charity said that with the right, and often very simple and inexpensive, support, readmissions can be dramatically reduced.
Since the establishment of its “Hospital 2 Home” scheme in Leicestershire last year, more than 600 older people have been referred, with very low readmission rates to hospital among those who used the scheme (7.5% within 60 days).
Comparatively, the research found that just one in five older people received support through social services or the hospital.
In the absence of a formalised discharge care plan, the vast majority of respondents, over 90%, received help from a family member or friend.
But previous research from the Royal Voluntary Service found that changes in family structures and circumstances, such as divorce and relocation, raised concerns about the availability of family support for older people.
The same study found that 15% of respondents aged 85 and older lived more than 40 miles away from their children.
Royal Voluntary Service chief executive David McCullough said: “Leaving hospital and returning home can be a stressful and worrying time for older people, who may be particularly frail.
“It is vital that they have continuing and coordinated support at this key time. As well as appropriate medical and social care, support offered by volunteers, such as those that provide our Home from Hospital service, plays a vital role in helping older people settle back at home and can prevent unnecessary readmission back into hospital.
“We know that these services are not only good for older people’s quality of life, but they also provide wider economic benefits to health and social care services and the community.”
More than two-thirds of people admitted to hospital are over 65 years old, research revealed, and readmissions within 30 days carry a cost to the NHS of £2.2bn per year.
The Royal Voluntary Service is calling on hospital trusts to work with the charity and similar organisations to make the transition from home to hospital easier through schemes, such as Home from Hospital.
These hospital schemes support people over the age of 55 over a period of six weeks after a stay in hospital by helping with nutrition, transport and integration back into the community.
The service enables prompt hospital discharge, as well as reducing isolation and increasing independence and overall wellbeing in older people on their return home.
Overall, the charity supports more than 100,000 older people each month to stay independent in their own homes for longer.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We have changed the GP contract to prioritise coordination of care for elderly patients discharged from A&E, and the number of people admitted to hospital as an emergency from care homes is checked to avoid unnecessary call-outs in future.
“We want to make joined up care the norm across the country. Local health and care services must work together to make sure plans are in place for vulnerable older people leaving hospital, that they have time to get better and not end up in A&E,” he added.
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