Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

Lost in transition?

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Today Rhonda Oliver, Project Manager from Barnet Macmillan Cancer Advocacy & Advocacy in Barnet, discusses the issues facing older people, especially in transition from hospital and what Advocacy in Barnet is doing to help:

The National Health Service (NHS) is bursting at the seams and struggling to cope with record levels of demand. Services are stretched to the limit and if that is not bad enough, hospital and GPS are being affected by one of the worst flu outbreaks in recent years

We have all seen the pictures of ambulances queuing outside A&E and patients are facing long delays to find an available bed.

Yet, according to the King’s Fund the total number of NHS hospital beds in England has more than halved over the past 30 years, from around 299,000 to 142,000, while the number of patients being treated has soared. The UK currently has fewer acute beds relative to the size of its population than almost any other comparable health system. It is a tribute to the dedication and phenomenal hard work of NHS staff that they are able to deliver the high quality care and support that patients require in the face of such challenges.

The King’s Fund further report that the number of general and acute beds has reduced by 43 per cent since 1987/8. Most of this fall is owing to closures of beds for the long-term care of older people. Innovations in medicine, including an increase in day surgery, has also had an impact by reducing the time that many patients spend in hospital.

The rate of decrease in bed numbers may have slowed in recent years, but avoidable admissions may be prevented by making better use of existing bed stock, reducing variations in length of stay and improving the discharge of patients.

The focus should be on older patients who stay in hospital a long time, but this depends on there being enough capacity to provide appropriate care outside of hospital. Evidence suggests that intermediate care capacity is currently only enough to meet around half of demand and cuts in funding have led to significant reductions in publicly funded social care.

The need for efficient discharge planning has never been so pressing.

Advocacy in Barnet has found that 78% of older people in Barnet experience isolation, helplessness and despair as they move from hospital to home or into residential care, often without proper care, food, money, possessions or treatment plans and many without family to support them. Only 55% had plans explained to them and 100% said the plans did not provide the support they need after discharge.

Rhonda Oliver

Hospital discharge planning should consider the patient’s needs after a hospital stay and they should not be discharged from hospital until:

  • They are medically fit
  • They have received an assessment to look at the support they need
  • They have been given a written care plan that sets out the support they will receive to meet their assessed needs 
  • The support described in their care plan has been put in place and it is safe for them to be discharged.

Advocacy in Barnet has received funding to champion the rights of disadvantaged people 50 years old and over and we aim to support lone older people in hospital to make informed choices and decisions about their treatment and future care especially in relation to discharge arrangements.

We will provide independent advocacy to support people to access the services and information they need to improve their stay in hospital and to avoid re-admission once they have been discharged.

We are grateful to our funders: the Mercer’s Company, the Garfield Weston Foundation  and the B’nai Birth Leo Baeck Lodge (London) Limited for providing support to enable us to provide this essential service to the residents of Barnet.

Rhonda Oliver, Project Manager, Advocacy in Barnet

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Author: Marie McWilliams

OPAAL's National Development Officer

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