A new initiative announced recently that seeks to ease the burden on both the NHS and social care, coined ‘NHS Airbnb’, raises serious concerns.
Under the proposed system, hospitals will be able to discharge recovering patients from wards and into Airbnb-style accommodation to free up hospital beds. Inevitably, the patients most likely to be affected by these plans will be the most vulnerable in our society, including the elderly, who aren’t yet able to return home and who don’t have the benefit of support from family and friends.
This suggested measure comes at a time when social care funding has faced significant cuts leading to staff shortages, lack of equipment and increasing pressures. This does not appear to be the solution care providers have been asking for, with many calling for additional funding to employ and train more staff who can look after patients and ensure they receive the appropriate aftercare within their local communities. It feels as those their calls have not been heard.
Many in the care sector will be understandably concerned that patients will not receive the standard of care that they could expect in a care home or from domiciliary services. With the promise of earning up to £1,000 per month for housing patients in their homes, there is apprehension over whether those signing up will have the patients’ best interests at heart and if they are willing and able to provide a safe and caring environment. For this reason, it will be vital that robust background checks are carried out upon ‘hosts’ as an absolute minimum under the scheme.
‘Hosts’ may be untrained and therefore unable to identify and manage the array of complications that can arise following even minor medical procedures. All too often infections can take hold, blood clots and sores can form – sometimes with very serious consequences. ‘Hosts’ are likely to be ill-equipped to deal with such problems as they arise. With nurses and social care providers trained to spot and effectively manage such conditions, it seems dangerously unwise to seek to delegate this responsibility onto those who may consider the financial benefit as a more rewarding prospect than caring for a patient.
If things do go wrong and a patient suffers harm whilst staying at an ‘NHS Airbnb’, it’s important that they retain the ability to seek legal redress from the NHS without undue complication. In normal circumstances, NHS negligence compensation is awarded to patients where it can be shown that there has been a negligent failure to identify and treat medical complications that lead to avoidable injury. However, under this scheme, it remains unclear what the legal and indemnity implications will be in circumstances where a patient suffers harm whilst in the care of a private homeowner.
With a pilot of the scheme potentially launching as soon as December, those in the medical, care and legal profession will be watching through their fingers to see if safeguards are implemented that will ensure recuperating patients are adequately protected and private homeowners are not left unfairly exposed.
The scheme is being viewed as a partial remedy to the bed-blocking problem in the NHS but tends to paper over the cracks of a more fundamental problem. Care providers need additional funding to ensure patients are cared for properly, not additional space to house patients. The responsibility for patients’ health should not be placed in the hands of untrained individuals. With more investment in the sector, care operators, nursing and care staff will be better equipped to ensure patient care is prioritised following discharge.
Whilst initiatives to ease this problem should not be dismissed, neither should legitimate concerns.