By David McCullough, the Chief Executive of the Royal Voluntary Service
In the last five years, almost 200,000 people over the age of 75 returned home from hospital without the support they needed to be able to look after themselves.
At the Royal Voluntary Service, we believe in helping older people to live safely and independently in their homes for as long as possible and this is why we are campaigning to end going home from hospital alone.
Our ‘Home from Hospital’ scheme gives a helping hand when it is most needed by supporting older people to prepare for discharge. Once they’re ready to go home, our trained volunteers provide transport, make sure their home is warm and there is food in the house, and are on hand to share a cuppa and a listening ear.
For the next six weeks, or for as long as needed, our volunteers help by picking up prescriptions, arranging transport for follow-up medical appointments and providing much-needed companionship. As their confidence grows, we encourage service users to engage in social activities, which helps build up their overall well-being and resilience.
The support doesn’t stop at the end of the programme and once older people are well on the road to recovery, our Good Neighbours volunteers can help them keep safe and healthy. They pop round regularly for a chat, help with housework, take them out to the shops or hairdresser and encourage older people to get their life back to normal.
Individually these are small acts of kindness but together they can make a big difference to the lives of thousands of older people. At the same time, we are helping to cut the numbers of avoidable readmissions to hospital.
Going home unsupported means that older people are twice as likely to be readmitted to hospital within three months, but readmission rates among people supported by our scheme in Leicestershire were half the national average.
Service users have also reported that the scheme has dramatically improved their experience following hospital discharge. Some of the people we’ve helped have been very anxious about how they will cope on their own, especially if their relatives live a long way away. But once they’ve been introduced to our volunteers they are much more confident, knowing that they have what one user called ‘an invaluable second pair of hands’.
As volunteers work closely with service users they are also able to identify specific needs, such as support with falls prevention or they may notice worsening mobility issues.
Although our volunteers have no formal relationships with social workers, our experience is that informal relationships develop which can improve the support offered to older people. By working alongside adult care teams they are able to suggest practical ways in which the Royal Voluntary Service can provide help.
In some areas of the country we are seeing local authorities recognise the value of this type and level of intervention and they are responding with contracts that formalise this relationship. These contracts are developed as outcome-based services, usually with a basis in fair access to care criteria, and give us the ability to significantly contribute to an older person’s wellbeing.
We support them to access the services, information & support they need to live safe, comfortable, fulfilling and independent lives.