Older patients are the largest users of the NHS, but they don’t benefit the most from their services for a variety of different reasons.
First of all, they generally stay in hospital for much longer periods, with patients 80 years and older spending the most time in the wards compared to younger patients. They’re likely to have more complex needs than younger patients, as well as requiring a higher level of care that often can’t be provided. With occupancy rates in UK hospitals rising to 90% (and sometimes even higher), staff are often spread too thinly to offer the best level of care. Along with this, resources are sometimes not as widely available, and the efficiency of how these resources are used tends to drop when there is a high occupancy level in the hospitals. If patients have a longer stay, it doesn’t necessarily equal better care.
With elderly arrivals, they may be using up beds without actually needing to. Some can have long-term conditions that don’t require staying in the hospital overnight; the 2012 Dr Foster Hospital Guide found that 27% of elderly patients (over 70 years of age) admitted to hospital have two or more long-term conditions, with 27% having dementia (previously diagnosed) and a further 24% possibly suffering from major depression, all things that don’t require urgent action or the need to take up beds for several days.
It is widely known that while the number of hospital beds in the UK has decreased over the years – due to hospital stays generally being shorter than in the past – the number of admissions is rising, causing a major occupancy problem which leads to a reduced level of care.
In order to combat this issue, the NHS has to look at methods of prevention as well as treatment. Many elderly people may suffer from malnutrition or have a fall that could easily have been prevented, and without any proper community care to turn to, they often inappropriately end up at hospitals where they add to the occupancy problem. Once in hospital, older patients frequently get moved around, causing them unnecessary stress, and the assessments they are given often aren’t completed to the fullest level. This, in turn, results in further admissions and even bigger bed usage problems.
The Hospital Guide stated that in order to start solving this issue, hospitals must work harder at caring for elderly patients, including using preventative care and increasing the quality of care at weekends when older patients have higher mortality rates (this is due to the low levels of senior doctors available at these times). Failure to provide properly for older patients could lead to a rise in the number of medical negligence claims made against the NHS.
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