Care homes and the NHS: The silent scandal?
The plight of care home residents has pretty much slipped below the radar in recent years. While there is close scrutiny of everything from A&E waiting times to access to the latest cancer drugs, the support – or rather lack of it – care home residents receive from the NHS has gone almost unnoticed.
But, on Monday morning, the issue bubbled to the surface following a front-page article by the Daily Mail headlined “GPs vote to axe care home visits”.
The fact is that care home residents and their families may well ask what’s new – GPs have long since stopped visiting care homes.
A quick review of the sector in 2012, by the Care Quality Commission, found most of the 81 care homes looked at were not receiving regular visits from GPs.
And it is pretty safe to assume the situation hasn’t improved.
Think about that. These are among the frailest, most vulnerable members of society.
Many are living with a complex range of conditions, including dementia, heart disease and diabetes, with residents on an average of nine medications each.
And yet they are going without the sort of basic health care most take for granted.
Like many problems not given the coverage they perhaps deserve, the issue has been developing gradually over time.
The closure of long-stay NHS beds over the past 20 years or so has meant a cohort of needy, frail people have disappeared from view from the health service.
Before they move into a home, these people will probably be among a GP’s most frequent visitors.
But when they enter a care home, their ability to get down to the local practice diminishes.
They may even move out of the local area.
And GPs, who argue they are struggling to cope with the day-to-day demands placed on them, quickly get consumed by the patients turning up at their door.
What is the care-home sector?
There are 16,500 care homes in England, looking after more than 300,000 residents
- If nursing homes are included, the number of residents exceeds 400,000 (500,000 across the whole UK)
- Nursing homes have to have a registered nurse on staff
- Both care homes and nursing homes work with local GPs, hospital doctors and district nurses
Find out more about care at the BBC’s cost of care website.
Use the BBC’s care calculator to find out how much care costs where you live.