Thursday, September 17, 1998 Published at 23:33 GMT 00:33 UK
Elderly leaving hospital 'quicker and sicker'
Elderly people are often readmitted within a month of discharge
Older people are being discharged "quicker and sicker" than at any time in the last 50 years, according to a report by Age Concern.
The charity says hospital aftercare schemes could push down waiting lists and prevent readmissions.
But they are under constant threat because of poor funding.
In 1996/7 in England, more than 86,000 people aged 75 and over were readmitted to hospital as an emergency within 28 days of discharge.
Age Concern says this is due to bed cuts, an increase in the number of people being admitted to hospital and a decrease in the time they spend in hospital.
It also says cutbacks in funding has led to local authorities targeting care at the most severely ill, at the expense of those who need basic support with shopping and cleaning.
Age Concern believes hospital aftercare programmes help patients to stay out of hospital and prevent bed-blocking.
Surveys show most elderly people want to return to their own homes after they leave hospital, but they often need help with basic chores to stay independent.
Up to 62% of women over 75 and 33% of men live alone.
Aftercare schemes aim to help people with practical tasks as well as providing companionship and ensuring no-one is discharged to an empty home.
Age Concern says this aids recovery and helps people to be more independent.
It adds that the schemes are more cost effective than paying for hospital or nursing home places.
However, most are run by charities and they are constantly in threat of closure due to underfunding.
Age Concern, which runs 30 formal schemes and many more informal ones, says funding from local and health authorities is seldom guaranteed from one year to the next.
Sally Greengross, director general of Age Concern England, said: "Older people are discharged from hospital quicker and sicker than at any time in the last 50 years, making Age Concern's hospital aftercare schemes more vital than ever."
By next May, Labour has pledged to reduce waiting lists from the number it inherited at the general election.
In March, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced a sum of £65m for initiatives that bring down hospital waiting lists.