Occupational therapists’ (OT) leaders said staff could reduce pressure on Scottish hospitals by only admitting patients with urgent medical problems, while directing others to community care.
Frail elderly people are likely to stay in hospitals for longer if admitted, which can be harmful to their health.
A report by the College of Occupational Therapists (COT), which will be published tomorrow, pointed to “a growing crisis” in Scottish hospitals and called for health boards to offer round-the-clock OT services.
It comes weeks after a damning Audit Scotland report found attempts to move care outside of hospitals had stalled.
Julia Scott, COT chief executive, said: “Patients are being seen by occupational therapists too late and risk being admitted into hospital unnecessarily.
“We want to see more occupational therapists in A&E and in acute teams so that medically fit patients can return home, and continue with daily routines and activities.”
An NHS Lothian scheme where three occupational therapists provide 12-hour cover at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary saves around 100 admissions per month, saving the health board about £864,000 a year.
The College called for more OTs working to prevent falls, which account for 40 per cent of ambulance call-outs and cost the Scots NHS about £471 million per year.
Campaigners said falls were sometimes very serious and older people needed thorough medical attention.
Margaret Watt, chair of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “Old people don’t want to lie in hospital but they can’t go home because there is a shortage of care. Until we get that balance right then we can’t get elderly care right.”
Welcoming the report, health secretary Shona Robison said: “The Active and Independent Living Improvement Programme is in development and will provide a unique opportunity for occupational therapists and other allied health professionals to share how their skills can deliver many of the solutions being sought in health and social care.”