The Telegraph’s website the other day carried the headline “Minister: NHS will collapse if elderly bed-blocking continues”.
The story itself was a reasonable discussion about the need for better integration of health and social care to ease pressure on hospitals and ease the crisis in A&E, but the headline implied older people were to blame for all problems in the NHS. It conjured up images of stubborn older people refusing to give up hospital beds they no longer need, selfishly forcing younger people to wait for urgently needed care.
My 85-year-old mum recently spent two weeks in hospital, and the nursing care she received was faultless – every one of the 6Cs shone through in all the nurses on her ward. Nevertheless, the experience was distressing and confusing and all she wanted was to go home. And that’s exactly how most hospital patients feel, whatever their age.
The casually insulting tone of The Telegraph’s headline reminded me what a shame it is that the government has not accepted Robert Francis QC’s recommendation to create a new older person’s nurse specialty. These nurses could have expert knowledge of the ageing process and age-related conditions, and an understanding of the particular needs that ageing brings.
Older people’s nurses could help non-specialist colleagues across multiple wards or teams, and take a lead in caring for patients with particularly complex needs. And like cancer nurse specialists, they could smooth their patients’ path through health and social care, chasing test results, co-ordinating discharge plans, and ensuring all relevant professionals, family members and carers are involved and informed as appropriate.
I hope that when it makes its more considered response to the Francis report later this year the government will announce that it will, after all, create an older people’s nurse qualification with registered status. These nurses could do much to improve the experiences of older patients, and may also help to reduce the pressure on hospitals by reducing inappropriate A&E attendance and speeding up discharge by coordinating all care providers. Maybe they could also teach lazy headline writers that older people aren’t to blame for NHS problems – in fact they have spent a lifetime paying for it.