Are hospitals the best we can offer the elderly?

Comments made by the Chairman of the new NHS Commissioning Board caused controversy last week, with Sir David Nicholson making headlines for his statement that Hospitals “are very bad places for old, frail people.”

His words made waves, worrying those who have loved ones dependent on in-patient care.

The rationale behind Sir Nicholson’s words however is a powerful one – that community care must be expanded in order for us to be able to offer the best support and care to the increasing numbers of elderly patients. The traditional model of care must be adapted to reflect the changing needs of modern day patients and society.

Our increasing life expectancy is a double edged sword. More of us will live to enjoy old age, and yet this also means more of us will experience living with, or caring for someone with, long term conditions. Cases of the number of people with conditions such as Dementia, Diabetes, COPD, Parkinson’s – are set to increase dramatically by 2050s and with them so will the demand for longer term care .

What Sir Nicholson’s comments show is that it is the whole approach to caring for these patients that needs to be re-examined.

When a loved one is sick it is natural that we want to know they are receiving the best medical care, and despite the huge advances being made in long term condition management, many of us still instinctively associate this care with the physical buildings, the hospitals and GP surgeries, that offer these services.

The reality is that there are alternative effective ways to manage conditions without the need for costly in patient stays. Already, high street pharmacies offer many health checks and information services for those with long term conditions; improving access to advice and information while reducing pressure on GP surgeries. We are also beginning to recognise that optimal care for long-term conditions need not be dependent on, and in fact limited to, the walls of a hospital or a GP surgery.

This is why at O2 Health, finding solutions that help support people with long term conditions to stay independent and healthy in their own homes is our top priority. Technology such as mobile telecare, and telehealth can help provide a bridge between independent living and traditional hospital based care – helping patients monitor their conditions in the home while still having access to medical support when needed.

Older people often have complex needs and require support from a range of services to live independent lives, and although this support must include hospital care, we welcome Sir Nicholson’s recognition that providing greater support in the community and in the home must become a greater priority across the NHS.