Charity sector looking to help a struggling NHS

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With Oxfordshire being the worst in the country for ‘bed blocking’ a charity is hoping a scheme it plays a vital part in will prove a big help.

Bed blocking is when healthy hospital patients, often elderly, have finished treatment but cannot be discharged for various reasons.

These are called delayed transfers of care and, as an example, in the week ending January 23, there were 137 delays within Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, including 19 at the Horton General Hospital. There were also 25 delays at community hospitals run by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

At the last Community Partnership Network meeting in December, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (OCCG) remained the highest in the country for delayed transfers.

But since October, Age UK Oxfordshire has been at the heart of a scheme which it hopes will soon deliver evidence of its efficiency.

Circles of Support is one of seven projects in the country that are being funded by the Cabinet Office to reduce the pressure on hospitals throughout the winter.

It was developed through joint work with OCCG,the county council, Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford University Hospitals Trust.

The aim is to support older people who are at risk of repeated admission to hospital with volunteers helping to create ‘circles of support’ around people to re-establish relationships and activities and to link them to information and events provided by voluntary and community organisations.

Penny Thewlis, the charity’s deputy chief executive, said: “These aren’t grand and glorious things – but it’s the things that keep us going and make life worth living. A lot of people go back to hospital shortly after they’ve been discharged because there’s not enough support.”

The purpose of the scheme is to see whether such a partnership will have an impact on the admission of older people.

Ms Thewlis added: “Our aim is to bring down delayed discharge care and re-admission rates. We also know that loneliness has a real demonstrable impact on people’s health – both mentally and physically.

“The health professionals we’re working with are saying there has been a real gap for this. They’re very good at getting people back to health but they don’t have the time to go that extra mile and give people the confidence to get back into the swing of things.”

The project was due to finish at the end of March but it is now set to continue until July. An initial report on its effects is due in March.

So far it has helped 58 people in hospitals across Oxfordshire to think about the support they might need when they get home and put some of that support in place.

Volunteers have also reached 200 people in the community, and referred them to health professionals or other services about their health needs or because they are isolated and lonely.

Chief executive Paul Cann added: “We’re doing the right thing and I think if we’re supported to carry on, the evidence that this works will prove that community organisations and charities are very much a part of health care services.

“We will have shown that we have a vital role to play and if we can show that the NHS will invest, that social care will want to invest, we’ll become part of the solution and we need to be recognised and respected as such.”