Thousands of older people in the West Country have been left struggling to cope with no support when they return home from hospital, a new report reveals today.
The study, by older people's charity the Royal Voluntary Service, formerly the WRVS, shows 150,000 people nationwide had no support, and of those who did get help one fifth did not receive essential continuing support.
In one case which happened in Somerset two years ago, a woman in her 90s living alone and using a walking frame was discharged while her broken wrist was still in plaster, leaving the arm virtually useless.
She struggled to use her frame and get to the toilet unaided, lost confidence and was eventually admitted to a care home for five weeks' respite, which her friend and carer believes should have been offered when she left hospital.
The charity says older people can be especially vulnerable and frail following a stint in hospital and it is, therefore, particularly important that they are supported to manage health conditions and stay independent to prevent readmission.
Currently 15.3 per cent of over 75s are readmitted within 28 days of discharge.
The frailty of older people on their return home from hospital is confirmed by the research conducted by research company PCP on behalf of the charity, which reveals that 23 per cent of older people in Britain discharged after an overnight stay said that they felt very vulnerable when they came home and eight per cent did not feel able to look after themselves.
However, with the right and often very simple and inexpensive support, readmissions can be dramatically reduced.
Since the establishment of the Royal Voluntary Service Hospital 2 Home scheme in Leicestershire in 2012, more than 600 older people have been referred, with very low readmission rates to hospital among those who used the scheme (7.5 per cent within 60 days).
Comparatively, nationally, the charity's research found that just one in five older people received support through social services or the hospital.
In the absence of a formalised discharge care plan, the vast majority of respondents, over 90 per cent, received help from a family member or friend.
David McCullough, Royal Voluntary Service chief executive, said: "Leaving hospital and returning home can be a stressful and worrying time for older people.
"It is vital that they have continuing and coordinated support at this key time.
"As well as appropriate medical and social care, support offered by volunteers, such as those that provide our Home from Hospital service, plays a vital role in helping older people settle back at home and can prevent unnecessary readmission back into hospital.
"We know that these services are not only good for older people's quality of life, but they also provide wider economic benefits to health and social care services and the community."