NHS bosses in Norfolk considering radical ‘foster home’ plan

NHS bosses in Norfolk considering radical ‘foster home’ plan

Norfolk is pioneering a radical project to tackle the NHS crisis which could see people paid to offer up their homes to hospital patients to free up beds on wards. (Article from EDP – Read here)

Plans for the ‘fostering’ scheme are being drawn up by one of the county’s main hospitals, in what is thought to be the first project of its kind in the UK.

It is designed to solve the issue of ‘bed blocking’ – where patients, often elderly, are well enough to leave hospital but suitable support is not available at home or in a care home.

Under the scheme, such patients would stay with pre-vetted members of the public.

This could help ease pressures on hospitals that have seen some emergency patients wait for more than 12 hours to be admitted because there are no beds for them.

The precise amount of money that people would receive has yet to be finalised, but one proposal would see them receive around £500 a week to house a patient in their home.

It currently costs an estimated £500 to treat a patient in hospital for a day.

The plan has been devised by Blended Learning UK, a healthcare organisation based at the James Paget Hospital (JPH), in Gorleston.

It is now being developed by NHS Norfolk and Waveney, with a view to it being introduced at the JPH and the county’s other two main hospitals, the Norfolk and Norwich and the Queen Elizabeth, in King’s Lynn.

Before members of the public are accepted to take part in the scheme, they would have to undergo rigorous checks – including safeguarding tests – and would have to receive some training.

Those who are sent to live with them would essentially remain a hospital in-patient and continue to be monitored remotely, in a similar manner to those treated in ‘virtual wards’ – where people are sent home with equipment that allows medical staff to continue to observe them.

Jerome Pereira, founder of Blended Learning UK and a surgeon at the JPH, said the idea was initially inspired by a similar system in China.

“I have worked in the NHS for the best part of 40 years and I have never known a situation as desperate as the one we have now – which is why we need to be innovative in our approach,” he said.
“A lot of the structure is already in place for this type of project, as we have seen by the way people have opened up their homes to Ukrainian refugees. It shows there is a willingness to help others.
“What we want is a three-month pilot period and if it works I believe it could genuinely save lives.
“It could help speed up discharge, reduce ambulance handover times and potentially save the NHS millions.”
He estimates that caring for patients in hospitals for three months would cost around £5.5m – while this system would cost nearer to £1.2m.
The ambition is that there would be 50 households sought for each of the three main Norfolk hospitals, which would work alongside the virtual wards to care for patients.
Prof Pereira added: “Ideally, volunteers could be retired or qualified healthcare workers, nurses and carers so perhaps they would also get professional satisfaction while helping the community.
“When patients are in hospital they do not sleep properly and are at greater risk of infection than they are in a home environment.”

Mark Shepperd, discharge director at NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said: “This is an interesting and exciting proposal and something we are seriously considering.

“I am working with the team to develop the proposal, create a business case and work through issues and concerns that will naturally arise from such a transformational proposal.

“Risk appetite is something I need to address; people will have some concerns around safeguarding vulnerable adults, for instance there may be concerns around economic motives and difficult decisions with relatives if we are placing their loved ones into someone else’s home.

“All this said, we have a children’s foster system so we should be able to work through such concerns and have opportunities to strengthen oversight utilising the virtual ward, where we already remotely monitor patients in their own home 24/7, so a version of this could be set up to run alongside the foster family.”


The idea has been welcomed by watchdog Healthwatch Norfolk, which represents the voice of patients.

Alex Stewart, chief executive, said: “This sounds a really interesting idea and we welcome consideration of any innovative ideas which can help ease the current issues around hospital bed availability and speeding up the safe discharge of patients.

“We would be keen to find out more details and would want to be reassured about the level of checks being carried out on volunteers and their homes to ensure it was a safe and suitable environment for patients to recover.

“On paper, it is an interesting concept and we would be keen to know more, and would also help ensure the perspective of patients and their loved ones forms part of the pilot.”

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