A&E is “not the best place to be” for the elderly, a health minister has said, adding that she has spent “hours” waiting in emergency departments with her own mother.
Helen Whately, the social care minister, told NHS leaders that emergency departments were struggling with an influx of older people.
Speaking about her own experiences, she said she had seen “how hard it is for emergency departments with so many frail, elderly patients”.
Ms Whately told an NHS Confederation conference that it was “really hard to get care in emergency care right for someone who’s frail, with complex care needs”.
She said: “I’ve spent hours, whether it was for my mum [or others] in an emergency department, looking round and knowing it’s so hard for so many of those people there – it’s so often not the best place to be.”
Ms Whately, who hobbled onto the stage using crutches, had to attend the emergency department at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, Kent, by ambulance after breaking her ankle.
‘Washing machine of referrals’
She said she had also spent a lot of time in hospitals with family members including her mother, seeing first-hand that “emergency departments are struggling with the number of people turning up”.
“If any of you have heard me speaking about hospital visiting, you will know that my mum has been pretty unwell this year,” she said. “Even so, my mum doesn’t want to go in and out of hospital. In fact, she has to be practically dead before she agrees to going. She’s not alone in that.”
The conference also heard that 90 per cent of people aged 90 or over attended A&E at least once each year – around 450,000 of the half a million people in that age group in England.
Dr Adrian Boyle, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said last year that elderly and frail people were “being harmed by being in hospital”.
Another NHS leader described how elderly patients were “going around a washing machine of referrals” as different NHS services bounced them around.
Jonathan Hammond-Williams, the complex care lead at the South Western Ambulance Service, gave an example of patients calling 999 up to 35 times a month.
“It’s about the ambulance service, 111, primary care, community trusts and emergency departments. We pass people on to different specialists,” he said.
“The person is prescribed lots of medications and it doesn’t really get to what is essentially the problem, which is often something that is social and personal to them.”