'Tens of thousands' of elderly and vulnerable people will receive ‘tailored support at home’ as part of a new NHS plan to improve waiting times for emergency care, the Department of Health and Social Care has announced.
Community services – including Falls and Frailty teams – will be ‘scaled up’, with up to 50,000 people a month supported by clinicians at home in ‘virtual wards’, says, while urgent community response teams will also be expanded, to provide more patients with support at home within two hours, ‘in recognition of the pressures facing A&E’. These measures are part of a two-year plan, Delivery plan for recovering urgent and emergency care services, published by NHS England on 30 January in an attempt to reduce waiting times and improve care. The DHSC said: “A key part of the plan will be reforming the way the NHS provides services to adapt to the population’s changing needs, including by expanding care outside of hospitals.”
With an ageing population, falls are becoming increasingly common, and while Fall and Frailty teams made up of nurses already exist, the Department of Health and Social Care says this plan will ‘standardise and scale up’ these services, and – building on this winter’s learnings – ensure that more services are in place in time for next winter, with local areas developing plans for this. As part of the strategy, remote monitoring technology will be used to reduce falls risks.
The NHS has already rolled out ‘virtual wards’ – treating patients in their own homes – and cites ‘growing evidence that these are a safe, efficient alternative to hospital care, particularly for frail patients’. Patients are supported by clinicians to recover in their own home, rather than in hospital. Since last summer, there has been a 50 per cent rise in the number of patients thus cared for. Another 3,000 ‘hospital at home’ beds will be created before next winter, with an ambition to see up to 50,000 people supported per month.
The DHSC said: “High-tech virtual wards currently support frail elderly patients, or those with acute respiratory infections and cardiac conditions. Patients are reviewed daily by the clinical team, who may visit them at home, or use video technology to monitor and check how they are recovering.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay (pictured), said: “The health and care service is facing significant pressures and, while there is no quick fix, we can take immediate action to reduce long waits for urgent and emergency care. Up to 20% of hospital admissions are avoidable with the right care in place. By expanding the care provided in the community, the most vulnerable, frail, and elderly patients can be better supported to continue living independently or recover at home. This includes rolling out more services to help with falls and frailty, as well as supporting up to 50,000 patients a month to recover in the comfort of their own homes. Not only will patients benefit from better experiences and outcomes, but we will ease the pressure on our busy emergency departments.”
Sarah McClinton, President of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), added: "We recognise the importance of expanding and joining up health and care in people’s homes to stop them needing to go into hospital, and enabling people to leave hospital safely with therapies and support to recover. Key to achieving this will be co-producing plans across health and social care, and investment in the workforce in social care and community services, and we look forward to engaging with this.”