Guardian News and Media/London
Untrained members of the public could be paid up to £1,000 a month for renting their spare rooms to patients recovering from surgery under an Airbnb-style model the NHS is piloting.
The scheme aims to offer an alternative to hospitals and care homes for patients who have had minor procedures, but it has come under fire from medical professionals and social workers.
A startup, CareRooms, is working with the NHS and councils in Essex to pilot the model and finalise how it will work.
The company, believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, said it would benefit patients by creating “a safe, comfortable place for people to recuperate from hospital”, and the NHS by helping alleviate bed shortages and delayed transfers of care.
Bed blocking in the NHS has risen by 40% in the past year and is estimated to result in as many as 8,000 deaths annually. On some days 6,000 patients are taking up beds when they no longer require hospital treatment.
Clinicians and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services have expressed alarm at the scheme, which was first reported by Health Service Journal (HSJ), over issues of safeguarding.
The Save Southend A&E campaign group, whose members include clinicians, says it “opens a huge can of worms for safeguarding, governance and possible financial and emotional abuse of people at their most vulnerable time”. Southend is one of the areas involved in the trial.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services said it wanted more details before making a full assessment, but that the “model of care, as described, raises questions about whether the safety and well-being of the individual have been fully considered”.
A spokesman for Southend council said: “We want to make it clear that, at this early stage, the council has only agreed to continue exploring the viability of the project with other partners.
“We are awaiting further information on how the project will run and the preparation of a detailed business case before we can make any formal commitment or give support to the project.”
The medical director of CareRooms, which is part of NHS England’s clinical entrepreneur programme, said its governance and quality would be “better than standard practice” to address such concerns.
Harry Thirkettle, a part-time emergency registrar in Essex, told HSJ: “Everyone’s immediate concern is, understandably, safeguarding. We are working hard to be better than standard practice.
“We are not going off half-cocked … We are not going to start taking on patients until we have satisfied all these different organisations’ governance procedures and committees (NHS providers, commissioners and councils). We are really carefully considering this and making sure it is as safe as possible.”
He said hosts would face robust checks involving interviews and disclosure and barring service checks. They would also be required to complete training to ensure their understanding of the Mental Capacity Act and food hygiene and cleanliness standards.
The financial model is still to be finalised. Thirkettle said rooms would be rented out to funders at about £100 a night, with half going to the host. The rest would be used to pay for the care services required and a margin kept by the company as profit.
He said: “The proposition we are working on is that it is joint funded (by NHS organisations and councils). We may also look to take self-funding patients who pay us directly.”
For self-payers, the option would be presented by a hospital’s discharge team alongside existing options such as nursing homes, he said.
Hosts are asked to “welcome the patient, cook three microwave meals a day and offer conversation”.
Patients in Essex are being assessed to identify those who might want to pilot the scheme. CareRooms has also set up a stall in the restaurant at Southend hospital to find potential hosts.
Save Southend A&E said that in addition to its safeguarding questions, it was concerned about the way the company was pitching itself as a money-making venture for hosts, rather than emphasising care quality.
It said the company was handing out flyers in the public canteen at Southend hospital this month, which “headline with a financial opener offering people the chance to earn up to £1,000 a month renting out a spare room to accommodate someone needing to recuperate from hospital”.
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