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26 October 2017

Will asking the public to take in hospital patients really solve the NHS’s problems?

Under a pilot scheme, households will be paid sums ranging from £50 to £1,000 for a spare room.

By Stephen Bush

Uber, but for our troubled health service? A new scheme in Essex is about to become a testing ground for a start-up called CareRooms. Under the scheme, households will be paid sums ranging from £50 to £1,000 to provide a spare room and three microwavable meals for patients recovering from minor procedures.

“Public asked to take in NHS lodgers” is the i‘s splash. “NHS may rent spare rooms to ease bed crisis” is the Guardian‘s. “Rent rooms to hospital patients for £50 a night” is the Times’, while “NHS ‘Airbnb’ to free up wards” is the Metro‘s.

The problem is twofold: the first is that the NHS itself has now been subject to the longest period of real-terms spending restraint in its history. The second is that while the health service’s budget has been ringfenced, local authorities’ haven’t been, and the result has been the gutting of social care. Both contribute to the growing problem of “bed-blocking”, where patients who no longer require medical attention in a hospital have to stay there because they have nowhere else to go.

Will it work? For some people, it will be unacceptable privatisation while for others it will be a dangerous introduction of untried amateurs into healthcare.

As for me, I’m divided. My inner boring wonk says: “Well, let’s wait and see what the results, and costs, of the pilot in Southend are.” But my inner political analyst says: “You want to tell people they’ll be shunted out of hospital to be looked after strangers who happen to have a spare room? Good luck with that.” 

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