It’s fair to say that most people do not enjoy being in hospital. They may have been admitted for emergency treatment, delivered expertly by a first-class medical team, but once they start to feel better, the overwhelming majority of patients long for the comforts of home.
So imagine the frustration and disappointment of being told you are well enough to home but can’t be discharged because there is no suitable social care available. You feel trapped in a hospital bed waiting indefinitely to get the care you need.
This is the heartbreaking situation for thousands of older people across Scotland who are routinely put at greater risk of developing an infection, losing mobility and becoming more isolated and lonely the longer they spend in hospital. Research shows that staying in hospital an extra three weeks can effectively age people by 30 years. It is no wonder some older people are reluctant to go into hospital because they fear they will never leave.
It is four years since the Scottish Government created integrated health and social care partnerships intended to deliver a more co-ordinated health and social care service. Part of the aim was to deliver more care at home and relieve pressure from hospitals. This would help alleviate the stubbornly high levels of delayed discharge from hospital. But the statistics show this is not working. Delayed discharge numbers are still sky-high, the overwhelming majority of people affected are over 75 and three in four cases of delayed discharges are down to social care issues. Despite the dedication of social care staff, the system is clearly under immense pressure, with stretched budgets, lack of staff and increasing demand.
But unless ministers get a grip on this now, it has the potential to develop into a full-blown crisis.
Next month’s Scottish budget is an opportunity for action. We want politicians to prove they are serious about tackling the challenges that are harming the health of our older population.
There are three actions MSPs can take: invest more money, attract and recruit more staff and make a real commitment to prioritising the reform of social care.
The delayed discharge figures are evidence of an alarming lack of progress. There are still not enough medical and social care resources in the community and too many older people are not receiving the care they deserve.
As we enter a new year and a new decade, we urge MSPs to tackle this most complex of challenges.
Our older people and their families need assurance that social care will be available when required and that prolonged hospital stays for vulnerable patients who are medically fit will become a thing of the past.
Brian Sloan is chief executive of Age Scotland