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As UK hospitals are pushed to the brink, there’s never been a greater need to keep loved ones with dementia safe and well at home (and away from A&E).

An elderly lady sits slumped in a wheelchair and whispers; ‘I feel as if I’m going to collapse if I don’t lie down.’ A mother feeds her baby whilst sitting crossed legged on the floor of a busy corridor. ‘The waiting room’s full so I was told to come here,’ she shrugs. A sign above a door offers little in the way of hope. ‘Expected waiting time 13 hours 52 minutes,’ it reads.

This hard-hitting scene was filmed last week by a BBC news team which was given exclusive access to the A&E department at Blackburn Hospital (recently rated ‘good’ by inspectors). It’s a stark reminder that the desperate conditions in our NHS hospitals, described last month by the Red Cross as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ show no sign of improving.

Saddest of all, perhaps, is the weary resignation of dedicated over-worked staff. It’s dangerous,’ says a consultant with 26 years experience. ‘I’ve never known it as bad as this,’ he adds whilst explaining that patients who need to be admitted are waiting up to eight hours for a hospital bed. ‘It’s scary,’ says a nurse on the verge of tears.

This bleak but familiar backdrop is one that even the young and healthy can find arduous if they turn up at A&E, so imagine how difficult it must be for people with dementia who are amongst the frailest and most vulnerable members of our society.

Once they’ve endured the lengthy admission process and been given a bed, people living with dementia can often find their hospital stay becomes far lengthier than necessary (months, rather than weeks). Delays in discharge, whilst they wait to be transferred somewhere suitable, have reached an all- time high, resulting in so-called ‘bed-blocking’ which then impacts on everyone else…

It’s somewhat ironic that the people who would benefit most from a short hospital stay, (which keeps confusion and stress to a minimum) often end up staying the longest.

In fact, at any one time a quarter of hospital beds are occupied by people with dementia. Their readmission rates are higher too. Whilst the NHS crisis continues, those living with dementia will continue to suffer and often experience a worsening quality of life as a result of being in hospital. Some sadly never recover at all.

January 2017

  • • An elderly woman died at Worcestershire Royal Hospital after spending 35 hours waiting on a hospital trolley.
  • • Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, admitted that the ‘emergency care system is on its knees despite the huge efforts of staff.’
  • • A ‘distressed’ elderly woman aged 89 was finally discharged from Bristol Royal Infirmary on January 4, after waiting nearly six months for a suitable nursing home.

Dr Hassan has urged ministers and NHS leaders to draw up an urgent action plan to rescue A&E care and avoid the quality of care starting to deteriorate. But whilst the crisis continues, (it shows no signs of ending soon) there has never, perhaps, been a greater need to keep loved one’s with dementia safe and well at home.