It’s a sad fact that in the UK we spend less on health care as a percentage of GDP than Paraguay, Liberia, Moldova and Sierra Leone. And many other countries too, including most of Western Europe. (Source: World Bank)

So, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at the parlous state of our health services right now, which resulted in the BMA recently asserting that the prime minister could no longer ‘bury her head in the sand’.

  • Life-saving cancer and surgical operations are routinely being seriously delayed, at huge financial, emotional and health impairing cost.
  • A & E departments are still under huge pressure, with many regularly failing to meet the government targets set for treating patients.
  • And increasing numbers of elderly people, the so-called bed blockers, while judged well enough to leave hospital, have nowhere to go – with inadequate processes in place to speed up their discharge.

The reason they have nowhere to go is twofold. Firstly, they may be living on their own, with nobody available, either via social services or a family member, to provide the care and rehabilitation required at home. And secondly, the authorities are often not sufficiently geared up to be able to secure accommodation in a care home, whether temporary or permanent.

This is where Care Home Finder can help out. We are regularly tasked by families of an elderly relative to find a suitable care home, often at very short notice. Within 48 hours, we are able to identify usually 2 or 3 homes which have vacancies right now. Sometimes, in areas where demand is high, this entails broadening the catchment area to provide sufficient choice. And to date we have always been able to find at least 2 alternative homes for a family or individual to choose from. It’s simply a question of knowing how to go about the process.

It is in fact among the elderly vulnerable population where some simple changes could be made in the health sector for the greater good of everyone.

It is understood that within the York Teaching Hospitals Trust area, for example, there have recently been at least 100 acute beds occupied by older people awaiting discharge. Which means there are at least 100 people per week whose treatment must be delayed or postponed, as many procedures require a hospital stay of less than a week.

While the average fee charged by a care home can typically be around £800 per week, the equivalent cost of a bed in hospital, excluding surgery, is at least £2800 per week. Thus providing a notional net saving to the NHS of at least £2000 per week for every patient transferred to a care home – assuming of course that the NHS rather that the individual pays the care home’s fees.

Multiplied by the 100 patients in this example, and costed over a full 52 weeks, the potential notional annual saving comes to £10.4 million in the York area. And if these numbers were to be replicated across all 137 Acute Trusts in England, the total annual figure rises to £1.425 billion.

Of course, the maths are never as simple as this. Yes, the Hospital Trusts could ‘save’ some £2000 per week for every patient they can transfer into a care home. And that of course releases a bed for patients in need of those life-saving operations. But there’s the rub. The NHS, or relevant Hospital Trust, not only has to pay for the care home fees (at least temporarily if the individual turns out to be ineligible for free care), but also for the surgical treatment required for a new patient, as well as the £2,800 weekly cost of a bed. The trouble is, in many they cases they simply don’t have the funds available to cover both sets of costs, despite the obvious net savings to the national health budget. And consider also the huge costs currently being incurred right across the country of having surgeons and their medical support teams kicking their heels and being paid to sit around, while waiting to see if a bed can be made available so that they can commence work.

There is no doubt that many of the health care problems currently rife in the UK would be hugely eased if the prime minister simply increased the funding levels – maybe up to the levels provided in Paraguay would be a good start.

But, the other part of the equation relates to good old fashioned common sense. If only the NHS would engage with organisations like Care Home Finder, they would be able to deal with some of their current problems, of which unnecessary bed blocking is clearly one.