Vulnerable and elderly people who are re-admitted to hospital on a regular basis should receive automatic home checks, the British Red Cross has suggested.
It has conducted a report which warns that some older and vulnerable people face an “endless cycle of avoidable hospital re-admissions” – going in and out of hospital multiple times in a single year.
The charity said many are being sent home from hospital without the right support in place, or to unsuitable or even unsafe conditions at home.
Automatic home assessments could reduce repeat visits to hospital along with the associated pressure on the health and social care system, it suggested.
It said simple measures such as checking patient’s homes for hazards and making sure they have a well-stocked fridge could make a huge difference.
The report said emergency hospital re-admissions have risen by 22.8% in the last five years, with the number of people being re-admitted within 48 hours now accounting for one out of five of all emergency re-admissions.
The charity argues that while a patient might appear to be medically fit enough for discharge, repeated visits to hospital signal that something might be amiss in their home environment.
It said there is currently no agreed, consistent approach to flagging repeat admissions and attendances. Often it takes a person falling into crisis before any kind of support package is put in place, by which time their needs have spiralled and become even more complex.
The British Red Cross supports around 300,000 people every year with support-at-home services, transport for patients to and from hospital, ambulance support and mobility aid loans. It has run a series of successful pilots aimed at better supporting frequent attenders to hospital, in order to reduce preventable re-admissions.
Chief executive Mike Adamson said: “The NHS is rightly a source of national pride, but despite the best efforts of hardworking doctors and nurses we know that many of our hospitals remain under serious pressure this winter.
“We believe that routine home inspections, when someone vulnerable is discharged from hospital, could flag basic steps that would prevent dangerous falls and repeat admittance to hospital.
“This could dramatically ease the flow of patients in and out of hospitals, helping to free up critical bed space.”
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Councils are doing all they can to work effectively with the NHS to put plans and support in place to ensure that everyone is discharged safely from hospital, with the right support.
“However, as this telling report highlights, funding, resource and demand pressures on councils are impacting on the availability and provision of social care, in properly planned discharges and action to avoid hospital re-admissions.
“This is creating a vicious circle of people being admitted to hospital due to a lack of social care and having to stay in hospital longer than they need to for the same reason.
“Investment in prevention to treat the causes of these pressures is vital to help reduce the number of people being admitted to hospital in the first place and costs to the public purse.”