Returning home: why some patients need help to adjust to life outside hospital

Anne Kamale is a British Red Cross service coordinator at the Trust. Anne understands how hard it is for patients, especially elderly patients, to make the transition to life at home after several weeks in hospital. Anne works for the Trust, but is part of a service delivered by the British Red Cross which provides practical support to patients at home once they are discharged from hospital.

Imagine this – you’re 72 years old and you’re about to leave hospital. This is a daunting prospect, even though you’re feeling much better. You came to hospital three weeks ago because you were struggling to breathe. What started as a bad cold, turned out to be pneumonia and your condition worsened quickly. The pneumonia led to other health complications and since then you’ve been cared for on a hospital ward.

Tomorrow you’re finally due to be discharged. On one hand you feel happy because your health has improved and you no longer need hospital care. On the other, you’re still not 100 per cent and feel anxious because you live alone and you’re about to return to a house that has been empty for three weeks.

This is where the British Red Cross’ Next Steps programme comes in. My team works from inside hospital to provide short-term care to help get people back on their feet after an accident or illness. I identify patients who could use a little extra help at home after discharge from hospital. I pair up patients with one of our trained British Red Cross volunteers who go to the patient’s home to provide practical help.

When the patient is ready to leave hospital, the volunteer paired with the patient accompanies them home and helps them settle in. This may be as simple as putting the heating and lights on and making a cup of tea. They’ll also check if the patient needs any shopping, or a prescription picking up, of if there are any practical issues with their home that the volunteer can help with.

One week later the volunteer will stop by for another visit. This happens every week for the four weeks following the patient’s discharge to make sure they are well and have everything they need to adjust to life outside the hospital environment. Again the volunteer will help the patient with practical matters like going to the shops, or completing paper work. The patient might want to register for community or social services, for example, or perhaps they would like the volunteer to come with them to follow up health appointments. For many people, what they need more than anything else is company.

When I tell people what I do, they’re often surprised. Everyone knows about the British Red Cross’ work abroad, but they’re less familiar with what we’re doing at home. I don’t think many people know we work in local hospitals to help members of our community. The Next Steps service was set up originally to support elderly patients, but we are open to supporting any patients who are identified as needing additional help at home.

We all know the NHS is an incredible service, helping restore people’s health, but fewer people understand the valuable role third-party partner organisations like the British Red Cross play in supporting patients. The way I see it, leaving hospital can feel like a big step for patients and my team act as a bridge between an inpatient stay and “normal” life.

The Next Steps programme, funded by the clinical commissioning groups covering Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, and Westminster, is run as a partnership between British Red Cross and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. We’re here to help patients at any of the Trust’s five hospitals who live in these boroughs. In the future, we would love to be able to extend this vital community service to patients from other boroughs.

If you are a patient at one of our hospitals and would like support from Next Steps as you return home, speak to a member of staff. Nurses, occupational therapists, doctors or the discharge coordinator on your ward can make a referral to the Next Steps service for you.

Alternatively, you can refer yourself to the service by contacting us on the phone numbers below or speaking to the discharge team at the hospital where you are an inpatient:

• St Mary’s or the Western Eye hospitals: 074 3273 9066

• Hammersmith or Charing Cross hospitals: 079 0810 3227


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