New plans for NHS elderly rapid response teams made up of nurses, physiotherapists and care staff could face a major obstacle due to staff shortages. That is the warning issued by a number of unions after the health service announced the programme.
The idea behind the community crisis teams is that they will respond to sick older people within two hours of being called. They will visit patients in their own homes in order to plug gaps in care as and when they're required.
Seven areas of the country have been selected for the pilot scheme to be launched this year and a nationwide rollout is expected by 2023. It is part of an overhaul of the care system that has been promised by ministers for years, but it's yet to be seen whether it will be successful.
Christina McAnea, of Unison, said: "If the social care system wasn't underfunded to the point of collapse, older people could be helped before they hit crisis point. But with resources scarce, short visits have become the norm.
"Care workers are so rushed off their feet, they barely have time to administer basic care, let alone assess whether someone needs a greater degree of help."
Council social care teams, which will be vital to the success of the new system, have not yet been informed about how funding will be reformed. This needs to be established before the scheme can be adopted throughout the UK.
The first parts of the country to test the rapid response teams will be Warrington, West Yorkshire, Leicestershire, Cornwall, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire, south-east London, Norfolk and Suffolk, at a cost of £14 million.
Among the teams' roles will be responding to falls and minor infections, as well as ensuring care packages are in place for patients leaving hospital. This should help to tackle the issue of one in 20 hospital beds being taken up by medically fit elderly people unable to return home due to a lack of community care.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, said: "The NHS working hand-in-glove in the community with council-funded social care services can be the difference between an older person, or someone with long-term health needs, spending a week or a month on a ward and not needing to go in, in the first place."