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Social support for elderly drives down hospital readmission rate, pilot shows

Support for older patients after they were discharged from hospital led to a reduced rate of readmission and improved patients’ welfare, new research shows.

The ‘Hospital to Home’ service in Leicester and Leicestershire led to 9.2% of patients aged over 75 being readmitted within 30 days, against 15% nationally.

The pilot scheme, from Leicestershire County Council, was staffed by 143 Royal Voluntary Service volunteers, who offered six weeks of practical and emotional support to patients aged over 55 who lack a social network.

David McCullough, chief executive of the Royal Voluntary Service, said: “A stay in hospital can be disorientating and it’s particularly hard to settle back into your home if you have no one there to give you a word of encouragement, make you a cup of tea or check you’ve got your medication.

“These are all simple things but this analysis proves just how vital that support is to the recovery of an older person who has been in hospital. No one should have to go home alone unless they choose to and it’s in no one’s benefit that they do, not the older person nor the NHS as they are more likely to be readmitted if they are not given the support they need after leaving hospital.”

Among patients who took part in the programme, 70% said their social contact had improved, 52% said it had boosted their confidence and 47% said it had increased their happiness levels.

The Hospital to Home programme was supported by the Cabinet Office as part of the Reducing Winter Pressures programme, which pilots social approaches to reducing pressures on hospitals.

Last year, the NHS received over 6,000 complaints about hospital discharges, and the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) alone received 221. A PHSO report recently warned that older patients are suffering “harrowing ordeals” because hospitals are discharging them without ensuring they have proper ongoing care.

Recent research from the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust also found that emergency hospital admissions for older people have risen by 18% in the past five years.

Bed days for elderly patients also increased to 19.4m, including delayed transfers for parents without anywhere to go after leaving hospital.

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