More than 1,400 dementia patients will be stranded in hospital on Christmas Day – despite being well enough to go home, a charity investigation has revealed.
The Alzheimer’s Society has blamed a ‘woefully inadequate’ lack of social care funding, in the region of £2 billion, for ‘turning wards into waiting rooms’.
Their damning investigation found dementia patients are becoming ‘part of the furniture’ and face delays up to 10 times as long as those without the disease.
Victims of dementia, which robs sufferers of their memory, rely on social care as drugs are unable to slow the progression of the incurable disease.
Karen Moore, 40, from Hebden Bridge, lost her father, Edward Knowles, who suffered from dementia, after he was stranded in hospital for six months.
She said: ‘Mum died of cancer while Dad was stuck in hospital, so I was grieving while also trying to sort out Dad’s care.
Karen Moore, 40, from Hebden Bridge, lost her father, Edward Knowles, who suffered from dementia, after he was stranded in hospital for six months
‘It was a nightmare. The hospital was great, but it wasn’t the right environment for Dad and we were under pressure to free-up a bed.
‘But because his needs fluctuated so much it was impossible to get him sorted with social care, so he was stuck in hospital for six months.
‘Dad got infection after infection; it was like he was being taken down by a pack of wolves. Eventually, he died on the ward.’
The charity studied hospital audits and found that people with dementia stayed an extra 500,000 days in hospital despite being well enough to leave.
They projected this costs the NHS in excess of £170 million – but admitted it was a ‘conservative estimate’ and the real figure could be higher.
BRITAIN’S SOCIAL CARE CRISIS
Britain is facing a desperate shortage of care home places as the number of elderly people with poor health soars, a study found in August.
More than 71,000 new care places for over-65s will be needed in England alone by 2025 – a third more than those available in 2015, it said.
And by 2035 demand will have boomed by 86 per cent, with a total of 189,000 extra places needed, Newcastle University researchers calculated.
Social care in the UK is already at crisis point, with the sector predicted to face an annual £2.3billion shortfall in funding by 2020, care homes closing and organisations struggling to recruit staff.
Yet these challenges are only set to increase, with booming life expectancy, a growing population and rising rates of dementia, diabetes, back pain and bad joints putting more and more elderly people in need of care.
The society said only two out of three people with dementia have been diagnosed, with 850,000 known sufferers in the UK.
Longer than necessary stays in hospital can have severe consequences for patients, as they may become too frail to be discharged home.
Hospitals can also be very upsetting and confusing environments for those with dementia, according to the charity.
Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the society, said: ‘People with dementia are repeatedly falling victim to a system that cannot meet their needs.
‘With such scarce social care funding, wards are being turned into waiting rooms, and safety is being jeopardised.
‘One million people will have dementia by 2021, yet local authorities’ social care budgets are woefully inadequate.’
Mr Hughes, who attacked the Government for not promising any new money in its budget, gave examples of sufferers let down by the system.
He pointed to a woman who spent two months on a bed in a corridor because there were no available care home places.
Dominic Carter, senior policy officer at the charity said: ‘Dementia patients are becoming part of the furniture in hospitals.’
And Mr Hughes told the story of a man who died after months of waiting left him debilitated by hospital-acquired infections.
He demanded more money for social care to reduce the pressure on hospitals and the suffering of people with dementia on its wards.
SCIENTISTS FIND THE FINAL PIECE OF THE DEMENTIA JIGSAW
A cure for dementia may be in the pipeline after scientists claimed to have solved the ‘final piece of the jigsaw’.
An international team of researchers found a build-up of a toxic chemical, normally cleared away in urine, may be responsible.
The new research, on human brains, revealed high levels of urea may cause Huntington’s disease – deemed to be a form of dementia.
It adds to a host of evidence which suggest a build-up of other chemicals, most notably tau and amyloid beta, may be responsible.
Professor Garth Cooper, based at Manchester University, welcomed the findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
He said: ‘This study… is the final piece of the jigsaw which leads us to conclude that high brain urea plays a pivotal role in dementia.
‘Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s are at opposite ends of the dementia spectrum – so if this holds true for these types, then I believe it is highly likely it will hold true for all the major age-related dementias.’
The scientists came from Manchester University, the University of Auckland, AgResearch New Zealand, the South Australian Research and Development Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University.