The family of a Bristol woman who went into hospital for a couple of days and was about to be discharged have spoken of their anguish because she is still not home almost a month later.
Doctors told Gwyneth Lucas she was well enough to go home on the Monday before Christmas – but the crisis in social care in the community is so bad that she is still in hospital today, having celebrated her 100th birthday at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.
Her daughter Rita told Bristol Live that her previously fit and healthy mum was deteriorating because she was ‘stuck’ in hospital, and after visits were banned because of covid rules, she feared she would never see her again.
After Bristol Live got involved in her case this week, and Mrs Lucas’ daughter Rita emailed the chief executive of the NHS Trust which runs the BRI, special dispensation was made which meant she was allowed to visit her mum for the first time this year on Tuesday afternoon.
But there appears to be no immediate end to the family’s anguish at seeing their mother-of-six able to leave hospital and go back to her home in Knowle any time soon.
Rita said her mum Gwyneth had been fit and well for a 99-year-old until she suffered a minor fall and ended up being taken into hospital a little more than a week before Christmas. “The doctors told her and us she was doing pretty well for her age and she wouldn’t be long in hospital,” said Rita. “By the Monday, December 20, the doctors said she was medically fit to be discharged, and she was coming home. They even called me to ask if I could and wait at her home to be there when she arrived, which I did do.
“I was waiting for her, and then the hospital rang again and said they were really sorry but there’s a problem. They told me that the care provider had withdrawn their care package right at the last minute, and that meant they couldn’t release her,” she added.
Mrs Lucas had been receiving around six hours of care every day at home – to help her in the mornings and again at teatime and bedtime.
That care had been supplied by Dorset-based care agency Agincare, and commissioned by Bristol City Council.
Since then, no one has been able to agree a new care package for Mrs Lucas, and despite being medically fit to be discharged, she hasn’t left the ward.
The toll on her and the family has been huge, her daughter Rita said.
“We couldn’t understand it because Agincare and I had been talking about and agreed what was going to happen over Christmas,” said Rita.
“It was her 100th birthday on December 28 and we had a little party planned. We’d ordered the cake and everything. It’s just awful.
“She’s a strong woman. Although she’s 100, she’s exceptional for her age – she’s still independent, she’s still very much with it, and healthy.
“But this stay in hospital, it’s not in her best interests. Obviously there are other people in the ward with her, and it’s very distressing for her. She’s deteriorating in there. It’s absolutely horrendous,” she said.
The University Hospitals NHS Trust tightened the rules on visiting in hospital as covid cases in Bristol rose sharply at Christmas and the New Year, and Rita and the family were no longer allowed to visit.
“That has been the worst thing of all,” said Rita. “I have tried to speak to her on the phone a lot, and every time, she’s begging me to come and get her and take her home. It’s heartbreaking.
Speaking on Monday, Rita told Bristol Live: “I feel so helpless, but my biggest fear is that being in there means she goes downhill, she won’t come even though she should be at home, and I’m never going to see her again.
“Just hearing her on the phone is heartbreaking – it’s almost too upsetting to call her, for both of us,” she said.
After Bristol Live contacted the UHBW NHS Trust on Monday, and Mrs Lucas emailed the chief executive of the trust, she was given special dispensation for a family visit on Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m really pleased that I’m allowed to go and see her, but the fact remains she’s medically fit to come home,” said Rita.
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Mrs Lucas is one of as many as 10,000 people across the country who are ‘delayed discharges’ – people who are medically fit to leave hospital but who cannot because there is not to the appropriate package of care or support in the community for them, either in their own home or in a care setting.
The problem is as acute in Bristol as anywhere – it was one of the biggest issues cited by the North Bristol NHS Trust when it announced the construction of a temporary ‘Nightingale Surge Hub’ for covid patients in its car park at the end of December.
At the time, NHS bosses in Bristol said: “We also remain very busy with many patients who are medically fit for discharge but are waiting for loved ones to help them home or for a package of care in the community.
“We really want to encourage friends and family to do everything possible to ensure people are not staying a single extra night in hospital that they don’t need to,” they added.
Meetings have taken place between social care commissioners at Bristol City Council, doctors, family and Agincare, who said the issue was a complex one.
“This is a complex situation, and we appreciate the upset it causes for Gwyneth to remain in hospital,” a spokesperson for Agincare said.
“The health, safety and wellbeing of those who draw on our care is our absolute priority and we always work very closely with them, their loved ones and other agencies in their best interests; in this situation and at the time in question, our understanding is that all parties were unable to agree a safe and appropriate package of care to safely meet Gwyneth’s needs in order for her to safely return home, and we called into the recent meeting to again give our view.
“We understand that conversations are taking place between agencies, which include the family, to agree the best way forward to enable Gwyneth to safely leave hospital; and we are on hand to help with an appropriate package of care if required. Our Bristol home care service is fully regulated by the CQC, and was rated Good at recent inspection,” he added.
The University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Trust said they could not discuss Mrs Lucas’ case because of patient confidentiality.
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