Nine out of ten hospitals are “overcrowded”, with unsafe numbers of patients, according to a BBC analysis. But whenever stories break about the severe pressure on hospital services, the assumption seems to be that part of the problem lies in too many older people being admitted to hospital when they don’t really need to be.
However our NIHR research, speaking to front-line staff at three different sites and more than 100 people with with experience of being admitted to hospital as emergency patients, suggests this isn’t the case. Contrary to popular opinion, the older people we interviewed seemed very unwell or were injured. Everyone involved – the patient, their GP and hospital doctors – typically felt that hospital was the best place for them.
Some of the older people who took part seemed to be going to significant lengths to stay away from hospital if at all possible. They were very conscious of being seen as people who might take up scarce resources that could be used by others. Rather than being admitted “inappropriately”, these people delayed seeking help – possibly putting their health at risk as a result.
Services may be struggling due to rising need and very challenging NHS finances. But our work suggests that taking better care of frail older people in community care settings – although surely the right thing to do in any case – isn’t necessarily the thing that will free up lots of beds for other people.
A short video about our research and findings is below.