Earlier this week, the BBC revealed that NHS England is currently reviewing the idea of creating ‘health hotels’ to ease pressure on hospital wards.
Under the plans patients, such as the elderly waiting to be discharged, new mothers and stroke patients would recover in these new facilities. My first reaction, from vividly remembering the rather unpleasant experience of staying in hospital after the birth of my three children, is that this concept will offer great advantages to patients who do not require constant medical care.
The scheme is designed to save money, as the cost of keeping a patient in a hospital bed for a night is double the price of a hotel room. In addition, it is aimed at ensuring priority cases are admitted as quickly as possible – recent Department of Health figures showed that a greater number of trusts have to delay the admission of an emergency patient by 12 hours or more after clinicians have decided to admit them, due to lack of beds.
With an estimated 30,000 patients each year kept in hospital despite being well enough to be discharged, this could be an attractive model which is already widely used in Scandinavian countries and by a few pioneering NHS trusts in the UK.
But will this measure be enough to alleviate the pressure on hospital wards and get people who do not urgently need to be cared for in a hospital into a more appropriate care setting?
So what’s the solution? With £7 out of every £10 in the NHS being spent on the management of long term conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and cancer, combined with an ageing populations, it is vital to find a more sustainable way to deliver healthcare. For a start we need to move away from a reactive system of care and embrace a pro-active model whereby at ‘risk populations’ are identified and their condition(s) treated and managed at home or in the community, in order to prevent and reduce unnecessary hospital admissions.
But in order for this to happen, payment systems, which currently incentivise hospitals to keep busy, must be remodeled and health and social care services must be integrated.
The intellectual argument for health and social care integration has been won and most stakeholders are in agreement that this is the way forward. The government has shown enthusiasm and has tasked NHS England to drive integration. Ed Miliband, leader of the opposition, has just set up an independent commission to consider the integration of health and social care. This in itself is quite telling and suggests that he is well aware that integration is no mean feat and will undoubtedly take time.
However, there are no other options available and we must forge ahead to ensure a sustainable health care system in the future. There are pioneers scattered around the country who are already making integration a reality, striving to overcome the hurdles and redefine organisational and budgetary structures to deliver more seamless services for patients and service users. It is time to give those people a voice in the media so that they can inspire others to follow in their track. It will be a slow and, at times painful process, but remember the saying: “Rome wasn’t built in a day”!
In the meantime, the health hotels are a good solution to a specific problem and as a health consumer, I would be happy to check in!