Recovering Covid-19 patients could be sent to hotels to free up hospital beds - but is it safe?

Wednesday, 13th January 2021, 10:53 am
Updated Wednesday, 13th January 2021, 10:53 am

Thousands of Covid-19 patients are set to be released from hospital early to either hotels, or their own homes, in an effort to free up more hospital beds for coronavirus sufferers who need life or death care, the Guardian has revealed.

Senior sources have said that hospital chiefs in England plan to begin discharging patients early on a scale which has never been seen before, in a bid to create “extra emergency contingency capacity”, and stop parts of the NHS from collapsing.

Documents seen by the Guardian also revealed that the NHS is asking care homes to start accepting Covid patients straight from hospitals, and without a recent negative test, on the grounds that they have been isolated for 14 days and have shown no new symptoms.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The “home and hotel” plan will see patients released early into a hotel, and will receive help from voluntary services such as St John Ambulance and the British Red Cross, armed forces medical personnel and any available NHS staff.

Hotels are a ‘back up plan’

Speaking to Sky News, Hancock said that the NHS is considering plans to move some patients into hotels to ease pressure on hospitals.

He said: “There are huge pressures on the NHS and we are looking to all different ways that we can relieve those pressures.

“We would only ever do that if it was clinically the right thing for somebody. In some cases, people need sit down care, they don’t actually need to be in a hospital bed.

“It isn’t a concrete proposal by any means, but it is something that we can look at as we look at all contingencies.”

However, speaking on BBC Breakfast, health secretary Matt Hancock also said that sending patients to hotels was a “further back up plan” for some patients, but “it’s not something we are actively putting in place”.

London Hotel Group taking patients

The London Hotel Group (LHG) has already started taking Covid-19 patients who are homeless from King’s College Hospital in south London.

These patients are being cared for in LHGs Best Western-branded hotel, nearby in Croydon. According to the Guardian, it is in talks with 20 other NHS trusts and says it could provide 5,000 beds.

A King’s College Hospital spokesperson said: “To create capacity in the hospital to care for the high number of patients requiring admission, we have partnered with a local hotel to temporarily accommodate mainly homeless patients who are ready to safely leave hospital and will benefit from further support from community partners.”

An LHG spokesperson said: “The patient group the NHS is seeking to accommodate at this stage are recovered or recovering from Covid and who are medically fit for discharge, and thus do not require specialist medical supervision or specialist care, but can’t yet return home.

“This frees up NHS bedspace and capacity and is relatively easy for hotels to accommodate.”

‘Early discharge can cause problems’

The plan to release patients early to hotels hasn’t been without its controversies.

Lucy Watson, chair of the Patients Association, said: “This is a dire situation, in which the NHS often has no good options available.

Discharging patients early from hospital is likely to be one of few options open to the NHS to manage the scale of the current need.

“However, early discharge can often cause problems that result in harm to the patients and the need to re-admit them. Care by volunteers in hotels is not an adequate substitute for proper hospital care.

“But at a time when hospitals are overwhelmed by critically ill patients and striving to prevent loss of life on large scale, clearly they will be making desperate choices.”

Dr Charlotte August, chief executive of the umbrella group of health charities National Voices, added: “We have questions about where the health and care staff to look after those people will come from and how any deterioration would be dealt with given the very long waits for 111 or 999 services.

“In our view, this proposal in indicative of the unpalatable decisions NHS leaders are now forced to make due to the immense pressures placed on the system by this latest lockdown coming yet again too late to protect the NHS’s ability to provide universal high quality services for all.”