Imagine a private room designed to be a “care space” to help recuperating patients with complete recovery. This space comes with a private bathroom, the latest equipment—and, not only that—daily meals and drinks are also included in the “package”. Only in this case: the meals would be served by a local stranger—and the room is situated in a stranger’s house.

This “Airbnb”-style accommodation is actually a pilot scheme proposed to overcome the problem of bed-blocking in the NHS wards—a situation caused by the high number of patients who are medically fit to be discharged, yet, still continue to stay at the hospital. Based on experts’ claims, as high as 8,000 people die every year in NHS wards due to this problem. Statistics reveal that the problem has more than doubled in the past seven years.

A new pilot scheme for patients waiting to be discharged

“CareRooms”, a start-up focused on crowd sourcing “intermediate care”, recently introduced this pilot scheme to tackle the growing bed-blocking crisis. The company aims to “combine clean, safe and comfortable accommodation, friendly and nurturing hosting and the latest in digital health technology to provide the perfect environment for convalescence and rehabilitation”. The trial is supposed to take place in Essex and was initially revealed by the Health Service Journal (HSJ).

The company is recruiting “hosts” who are not required to have any previous care experience. They could earn up to GBP50 per night, and a maximum of GBP1,000 a month—for hosting individuals recuperating after a hospital stay. Spare rooms and annexes with a private bathroom will be transformed into “secure care spaces for patients who are waiting to be discharged”. These prospective hosts will have to go through security checks prior to being approved for the scheme. They only need to serve the supplied microwave meals and would be provided with 24/7 support and training.

Spare rooms and annexes with a private bathroom will be transformed into “secure care spaces for patients who are waiting to be discharged”.
Spare rooms and annexes with a private bathroom will be transformed into “secure care spaces for patients who are waiting to be discharged”.

Newly proposed scheme garnering concerns and criticisms

Although this type of Airbnb-style accommodation for recuperating patients sounds like a great innovative idea, it has also invited a fair amount of criticism as well as deemed to be risky. Campaign group, Save Southend A&E told the HSJ, “We are shocked that an NHS trust is endorsing such a company... offering beds in private residential homes opens a huge can of worms for safeguarding, governance and possible financial and emotional abuse of people at their most vulnerable time.”

Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor in Oxford and author of “Your Life in My Hands”, said that the scheme “entirely misses the point”. In an article published in The Guardian, Clarke wrote that “Trained staff – carers – are what the sector lacks, not physical spaces in buildings. Urgent investment in trained, regulated carers is the only safe way to address this, not outsourcing the problem to random homeowners with no clearly defined standards for safeguarding, clinical governance and infection control, not to mention other risks to patients who are at their most vulnerable.”

The verdict: Yay or nay?

Concerns over safety risks have led to an NHS hospital, which had initially been considering the trial, backing off the scheme. Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said it has no intention to take part in the pilot “at this time”—saying it could compromise the safety and quality of care of its patients. “We will never compromise the safety and quality of care of patients, and we will not support this pilot until the necessary safeguarding and quality arrangements are in place and there’s been full engagements and discussion with our communities on the proposal,” says Tom Abel, deputy chief executive of the hospital.

While CareRooms’ pilot scheme is making major headlines, British health minister Philip Dunne has stated that the idea of patients recuperating in this Airbnb-style accommodation has not been ruled out. “This is not national policy, anything innovative needs to be very carefully scrutinised and assessed before we proceed with it. But I wouldn’t, just as an immediate knee jerk, say that new models of care in the community are necessarily wrong.” Mr Dunne further added that the idea had involved “people who may have had minor procedures who need a bit of help”. He remarked that it could also include B&B owners who were already medically trained and could offer accommodation.

Whether the implementation of the idea would eventually materialise and be in full swing at some point is still unclear. Introducing a rare, innovative solution while at the same time avoiding putting patient care and safety in jeopardy is a delicate venture. Nevertheless, in the midst of all the controversy—and beyond the matter of logistics or profits—policy makers, healthcare professionals and even start-ups must not fail to realise that it all boils down to one thing: the best interest of the patients themselves. MIMS

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