Home safe: how we get patients back where they belong
From filling up the fridge to providing a friendly face to talk to, this is the service that makes the journey home from hospital a little less challenging
This story was originally published in February 2020
A trip to the hospital is rarely without stress. But for those with no easy means of getting home, a visit carries even more worry. It’s something Pamela, from Poole, knows only too well. In 2018, she visited hospital no fewer than six times, for a persistent chest infection and breathing issues.
It’s for people like Pamela, who lives alone, that the British Red Cross assisted discharge service exists. Piloted in October 2012, the service helps those who don’t necessarily have friends or family nearby to help them get home and settled.
I JUST CAN'T STAY AWAY FROM THE PLACE! IT'S RIDICULOUS.
- PAMELA, PATIENT FROM POOLE
With help from the Red Cross, Pamela was able to get home to her beloved cats, and continue getting better in the comfort of her own home – freeing up an NHS bed in the meantime.
"They were all so kind, it was lovely,” said Pamela of the volunteers who helped her home.
The Poole assisted discharge service now helps about 90 people every month. Many of them live in rural areas. As well as helping them get home, the Red Cross helps patients get settled again, doing everything from buying food to changing bedding.
The service becomes particularly vital in the winter, when flu season and frosty weather means that the NHS is under even more pressure than usual due to an increase in patients.
We are a safety net
"You make sure the safety-netting is in place for people, effectively,” said John, a former emergency medical technician who now works in the assisted discharge team at Poole Hospital.
“Sometimes older people can be worried about coming out of hospital and it might be a little thing that helps, like ringing a neighbour or family member so you can leave them with someone they know. Even putting the bins out or arranging rubbish collections can make a big difference. No job is too big or small.
YOU DON'T REALISE HOW MUCH SUPPORT IS OUT THERE.- SYLVIA, PATIENT FROM DORSET
This is just one of the independent living schemes the Red Cross offers under its support at home services. “When people are referred to us, they are in crisis,” said support at home service coordinator Nicola. “They need our help. We sit and listen. We tell them it will be alright, that we’re here to support them to get back on their feet.”
A member of the team will meet a new referral in hospital in the days before they are due to be discharged. The team will then visit the person’s home to make sure there is food in the fridge, no trip hazards, and that everything is generally as it should be. It seems simple enough, but this kind of help can make the world of difference to someone worrying about coping on their own after a hospital stay.
Asking for help can be tough
For 84-year-old Sylvia from Dorset, there was an initial reluctance to ask for help. “I’ve always had to be independent and I’m not used to relying on other people,” said Sylvia. “And it’s not an easy thing to accept to be quite honest."
Nicola and Sylvia met after Sylvia fell and fractured her hip. They soon bonded over shared London roots – Nicola recently moved out of the city for a quieter life – and Sylvia says it’s reassuring now to know that she can pick up the phone if she needs help.
“If it hadn’t been for this accident, you don’t realise how much is out there for you,” said Sylvia. “And the Red Cross helped me with shopping, which is really, really nice.
A key part of our health and social care services, Nicola’s team consists of volunteers who visit people in their homes and spend around two hours a week with them for a six-week period. They help with small household chores, shopping, support with accessing other services, as well lending a friendly ear and chatting.
IT'S JUST NICE TO KNOW THAT PEOPLE ARE THERE.- PAMELA, PATIENT FROM POOLE
Unfortunately, after a second fall, Sylvia ended up in hospital again. Learning the news, Nicola’s team took a change of clothes, pyjamas and a washbag to the ward, to help her feel a little more comfortable. When she was ready to come home, it was Nicola who once again helped her to settle.
Services like this help people build their confidence and regain their independence. Often, it’s the emotional support, over the practical support, that people value the most.
“Just generally, you know there’s somebody at the end of the phone if you want some help,” Pamela said. “It’s just nice to know that people are there.”
As for Nicola, she thinks her move down from London was the right one: “You get a sense of achievement every day,” Nicola said. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had."
A helping hand
We’ve been there for people in vulnerable situations across the country for 150 years, no matter who or where they are. Click below to make sure we’ll always be there for people.Donate