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Older patients face month long waits for hospital transfer

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Older patients are having to wait for a month before they are transferred from hospitals to care homes, a charity has warned.

Age UK said that patients wait an average of 30.3 days before finding a place in a residential care home - a rise of three days per patient since the coalition government took office three years ago.

The charity said that “needless” waiting in hospitals costs the NHS around £250 per patient each day - compared to the £524 average weekly cost of residential care.

Health officials are currently grappling with accident and emergency wards that are full to bursting - and part of the problem has been attributed to delays in discharging patients from hospitals.

A charity spokeswoman said that a third of the “days lost” due to delayed discharge are linked to patients waiting for social care.

The news comes as care and support minister Norman Lamb announced that health and social care would be “fully joined up” by 2018.

Mr Lamb said he wants to see an end to people being “passed around” the health and social care system.

He said that coordination between the two services will see fewer patients “falling through the cracks” and a drop in the number of patients being stuck in hospital beds.

A Department of Health spokesman said that at present “inadequate coordination” between hospital and social care staff leads to some older patients facing “long waits” before being discharged.

He said other elderly people are discharged from hospital to homes which are not adapted to their needs - which is leading to them deteriorating or falling and ending up back in A&E.

“People don’t want health care or social care, they just want the best care,” Mr Lamb said.

“This is a vital step in creating a truly joined up system that puts people first.

“Unless we change the way we work, the NHS and care system is heading for a crisis.

“This national commitment to working together is an important moment in ensuring we have a system which is fit for the future.”

While Age UK welcomed the initiative, the charity cautioned that there needs to be good social care provision in place in order to make joined-up services a reality.

A charity spokeswoman said that over the last two years many local authorities, which provide social care, have been “struggling ” to balance their books because of funding cuts.

Many authorities have raised their eligibility criteria so that older people have to be more frail and disabled to qualify for help, she said.

Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK, said: “Waiting in hospital needlessly not only wastes NHS resources but it can also undermine an older person’s recovery and be profoundly upsetting for them and their families as a result.

“We are very worried that the growing crisis in social care is having a significant impact on the length of time that older people are having to stay in hospital waiting for social care support to be put in place.

“The steep rise in the length of time people are waiting for a care home place, home care or adaptations - significantly above the general rise in delayed discharge waits - suggests that something has gone seriously wrong in the transition from hospital to home or residential care during the time when we know social care spending has fallen dramatically.

“We need the Care Support Bill to be twinned with both an emergency injection of funds to shore up the current system and a long-term commitment to finding sufficient resources to make sure that every older person gets the care they need, when they need it.”

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