Underfunded elderly social care sees sharp rise in numbers of unplanned hospital admissions

An increasing number of older people are being admitted to hospital for conditions which should have been dealt with at home due to failures in the care for people in the community, a charity has warned.

Age UK said the safety net for older people living at home is failing due to underfunding and a lack of workforce planning.

The charity has analysed NHS data on the number of emergency admissions to hospital in England for conditions such as ear, nose, kidney or throat infections or urinary tract infections and angina, among others, that could potentially have been avoided if the patient had been better managed by their GP or district nurse.

The charity found a sharp rise in such admissions among the elderly.

Since 2003/04, when records began, such admissions have risen among nearly all age groups apart from children under four.

But Age UK said that older people have seen the largest increases in admission rates with percentage changes of over 100% for each of the different age brackets aged 65 and older in the 14 years since records started.

The charity found that these range from a 107% increase for those aged 65-69 to 119% among people aged 75-79.

This compares to a 63% increase overall in admissions for these acute conditions for England in the same period.

In 2016/17 341,074 emergency or unplanned admissions that should not usually require hospital treatment were recorded for people aged 65 and over, it found.

The charity, which is hosting its For Later Life conference in London, warned that people living alone in declining health, with no family and friends to support them, are at particularly high risk.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: “The safety net for older people living at home has worn dangerously thin after years of underfunding and an absence of workforce planning across both health and care – this is why the numbers of older people whose emergency admissions to hospital could have been avoided are rising so fast.

“Our GP and community health services like district nursing are understaffed and overstretched, and yet many older people are completely dependent on them to sustain their independence, health and wellbeing.”

Commenting on the report, Sue Learner, editor of care home reviews site carehome.co.uk, said: “It is truly heart-breaking to learn how many older people are suffering due to lack of support at home.

“Care homes across the country play a crucial role in caring for people with complex conditions like dementia.

“It’s these services that will ensure patients don’t stay in hospital for longer than required, and the Government needs to invest in the system.”

Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “This report is a further warning of the crisis in adult social care and the urgent need to plug the immediate funding gap and find a long-term solution on how we pay for it and improve people’s independence and wellbeing.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Patients should only be admitted to hospital when absolutely necessary, and we expect the NHS to work closely with local authorities and ensure people have a care plan in place when they are discharged.

“The Government has committed to a long-term plan with a sustainable multi-year settlement for the NHS to help manage growing patient demand.

“Health and social care are two sides of the same coin and reforms must be aligned – that’s why our forthcoming green paper will be published in the autumn alongside the NHS plan.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Jonathan Brady / PA Wire.