Plans to pilot an Airbnb-style care model in Essex that places NHS patients in spare rooms has been branded as a “dangerous experiment”.
As revealed yesterday, a new start-up company, CareRooms, is currently working with trusts and councils in the Southend area to pilot and finalise how the care model will work.
“This could raise all sorts of issues around privacy, safeguarding and security”
The company is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, according to Health Service Journal. The idea is to provide a room for “patients who may have had a minor procedure and live alone or whose own families are not able to provide short term assistance post hospital care”.
The company said it would benefit patients by creating “a safe, comfortable place for people to recuperate from hospital” and the NHS by helping alleviate bed shortages and delayed transfers.
Its website said host households could earn £1,000 per month for providing a room “with easy access to a private bathroom”.
“The role of a host is to welcome the patient, cook three microwave meals and drinks for them each day, and offer conversation where appropriate,” it said. “Everything else we arrange.”
A company spokeswoman said the suitable patient cohort was still being finalised but the pilot would focus on patients who were “medically fit for discharge but that had no one to go home to”.
“No innovative model of care can be supported if it risks causing safeguarding concerns”
The company’s medical director, Dr Harry Thirkettle, a part-time emergency registrar in Essex, said: “Everyone’s immediate concern is, understandably, safeguarding.
“We are working hard to be better than standard practice,” he told Health Service Journal, which revealed the scheme yesterday.
“We are not going off half-cocked,” he said. “We are really carefully considering this and making sure it is as safe as possible.”
The financial model was also still being finalised, said Dr Thirkettle. Rooms would be rented out to funders at around £100 a night, with half going to the “host”, he said. The rest would be used to pay for the care services required and a margin kept by the company as profit.
He said: “The proposition we are working on is that it is joint funded by [NHS organisations and councils]. We may also look to take self-funding patients who pay us directly.”
For self-payers, the option would be presented by a hospital’s discharge team alongside existing options like nursing homes, he said.
“The CareRooms team have been talking to staff, patients and visitors about the concept”
The pilot involves Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, local clinical commissioning groups, Essex County Council and Southend Borough Council.
Southend Hospital managing director Yvonne Blücher said CareRooms was among several “innovative solutions to further enhance health and social care pathways for our patients” being explored in Essex.
She said: “The CareRooms principle is to provide additional support to those patients who may have had a minor procedure and live alone or whose own families are not able to provide short term assistance post hospital care.
“A number of patient cohorts are currently being assessed to identify opportunities that may exist with our system,” she said.
“To help with this exploration, the CareRooms team have been talking to staff, patients and visitors about the concept with a view to identifying potential ‘hosts’ by having a stall in the hospital restaurant,” she added.
But the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, Unison and local campaigners have all raised concerns.
ADASS warned that “no innovative model of care can be supported if it risks causing safeguarding concerns”. Its safeguarding network lead, Helen Jones, said: “The model of care, as described, raises questions about whether the safety and wellbeing of the individual have been fully considered.”
“Despite widely acknowledged pressures in the adult social care system… rigorous safeguarding and governance processes should never be compromised in the provision of professional care to people of all ages, including the elderly and disabled,” she said.
Meanwhile, Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea said: “This scheme looks like another dangerous experiment, which will do nothing to tackle the underlying problems in the health and social care system.
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“While it is important for the NHS to ensure there are enough beds available, this shouldn’t mean pushing patients out of hospitals and into private homes,” she said. “This could raise all sorts of issues around privacy, safeguarding and security.”
She added: “There is a clear need for a well resourced social care system that can provide the trained staff and resources to support people to live independently in the community upon release from hospital.”
The Save Southend A&E campaign group, whose members include clinicians, has also raised concerns that the plan “opens a huge can of worms”.
It said: “Offering beds in private residential homes opens a huge can of worms for safeguarding, governance and possible financial and emotional abuse of people at their most vulnerable time.”