3 Aug 2015
Working together to help older people
David McCullough, chief executive of the RVS, writes about the new Home from Hospital service, which we have helped fund.
David joined Royal Voluntary Service as chief executive in 2011 following six years as deputy chief executive at Oxfam.
His background is in high street retailing with Principles, Next, Saxone and Miss Selfridge, and subsequently roles as director and managing director in the banking, credit card and IT industries.
David has also held non-executive positions on the boards of The Fairtrade Foundation, Café Direct (Guardian shareholding company) and Just Energy (a South African renewable wind energy company).
Older people are living much longer, which is a huge reason to celebrate, especially for those of us in our fifties.
But the number of older people with long-term health conditions has increased dramatically and with the increasing cuts in social care they are at greater risk of having a health crisis and ending up in A&E. Sadly once in hospital, it is harder for them to go back home and make a full recovery, meaning that they struggle to return to their previous life as a positive and contributing member of their local community.
Many have their discharge from hospital delayed because the nursing team doesn't feel confident that the support is in place once they are home. Others leave a little too early because their bed is required for someone with a more urgent need and then it's a very short journey to being readmitted to hospital a few weeks down the line.
This is all too common and a report the charity produced (assisted by health think-tank the Kings Fund), identified that older people returning home from hospital without enough support are more than twice as likely to be readmitted within three months1.
Previously families would step into the breach, but today it's not always possible. Many children don't live near their older parents and even if they do, they have their own lives to live plus work and childcare commitments to juggle. This isn't about neglect, it's about modern reality.
But the good news is that help once given by a family member can be provided by a volunteer who can step into the gap and offer that vital support to help an older person's recovery.
Our Home from Hospital service places a caring volunteer at the centre of an older person's recovery plan. The volunteer gets to know the older person when they are in hospital; takes them home and then provides them with the practical support they need to get back on their feet. They make sure the house is warm, that there is food in the fridge and that they have a way of getting to their follow-up GP appointments. Then when they are better that same volunteer helps them gain confidence to get back out into the community by attending a lunch club or going to a social event.
But don't just take our word for it. Previous research has found that older people supported by our charity's Home from Hospital service after a stay in hospital were 50 per cent, yes 50 per cent, less likely to be readmitted compared to the national average.
Yet while the evidence proves this support can make all the difference the reductions in state funding means that even more of these new models of care are required. It's not just volunteers and charities who need to step up in these challenging times – it's all parts of society: national government, local government, neighbourhoods and business too.
More support from the corporate sector is needed to strengthen our hospitals and our communities and to provide the support that was once naturally provided by the state. Let's be clear, this isn't about privatisation, far from it; it's about the fact that we are all citizens and all patients and the organisations in which we work are full of people from our local communities.
Forward thinking company, Legal & General, with a robust corporate social responsibility strategy that is tackling today's urgent social needs has committed to funding an invaluable new Home from Hospital service, laying down the gauntlet that we can only hope other major corporations will pick up. Thanks to their support, we will be setting up a new Home from Hospital service in the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, and helping more older people to go home and get back on their feet.
Let's hope others follow their lead.