Hundreds of Walsall residents are being supported to live safely and independently at home following a hospital stay – or avoid hospital altogether – thanks to a dedicated team of community therapists.
Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust has 25 staff working in Intermediate Care Therapies which includes Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists and Assistant Practitioners. They help patients who are undergoing bed-based rehabilitation at Hollybank House in Short Heath, as well as through the Trust’s community services such as Rapid Response, Frail Elderly Service, and Rehabilitation at Home.
Prolonged stays in hospital can result in patients losing muscle strength and mobility which in elderly people in particular, can have long lasting detrimental effects.
The recent ‘Living, not Existing’ paper published by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists highlights the importance of therapists in reducing demands on the NHS and social care as well as the huge contribution they make in helping people to enjoy a better quality of life.
In August alone, Walsall’s community therapy team took a total of 181 referrals which included 53 Rapid Response referrals and 59 referrals for people who had just come out of hospital.
Louise Mobley, Occupational Therapy Team Lead, explained: “Our aim is to maximise independence and quality of life, supporting patients in returning home after a period of illness or hospital admission. People are happiest at home in their familiar environment in the communities they enjoy being part of and we want to help them maintain this.
“Our approach is centred on each patient with a focus on what is important to them and what will maximise their safety and reduce dependence on care packages.”
The team also works in partnership with colleagues across health and social care to prevent hospital admissions and provide a seven day service to rapid response. Community therapists have a two hour response time for rapid response patients, supporting nursing colleagues in maintaining patients in their own homes by advising on equipment provision, manual handling techniques, and recommending and setting up temporary care packages. Should the patient require ongoing rehabilitation following recovery from an acute illness, these patients will then be seen by community therapy, aiming to restore function and confidence, and ultimately regaining independence and reducing care packages.
Kate Ball, Physiotherapy Team Lead, said: “Community therapy also supports with hospital discharges, another important element of our work.
“Patients seen by the Frail Elderly Service in the Manor Hospital can be followed up the day after discharge by the community therapy team. This allows the patient to return home as soon as they are medically fit with the reassurance that therapy will assess how they are functioning in their own environment the following day. It can be quite an adjustment to go back home, particularly after a lengthier hospital stay, and while patients are medically fit they can find limitations in other areas and appreciate having that support.
“We also receive referrals from GPs, community nurses and social workers for patients who would benefit from therapy in their own homes. We can advise on exercises to maintain strength and mobility, or work with patients to help them regain their confidence in completing daily activities such as cooking meals or maintaining their personal care. We can provide advice about health promotion and give preventative advice to reduce further risk of deterioration or crisis.”
In bed-based services therapists work with social care in providing rehabilitation within a six week time frame. They work with some patients who have complex needs which make returning home difficult to coordinate. The therapists can assess and put care plans in place for social care staff to follow on a daily basis to increase patients’ independence. They complete home visits, assessing the home environment and liaising with families, social workers and other agencies and health professionals, to ensure their safety and independence is maximised.
Kate added: “We work as a Multi-Disciplinary Team with nurses and social workers, and meet weekly to discuss therapy goals and discharge planning.
“We encourage patients to engage in functional activity during their stay at Hollybank House, including making their own hot drinks. We have Pets as Therapy on a weekly basis which encourages social interaction.
“Our patients are a diverse client group with a variety of acute and chronic health problems. We also have a high volume of patients who have dementia, who often function far better in their own familiar environments.”
A strong emphasis is placed on preventative work, as Louise explains.
“It is so important to be able to work with patients before they hit crisis and prevent the cycle of repeat hospital admissions. Key to this is working with GPs and other community health professionals in increasing their understanding of the skills that therapists have to offer.
“The ‘Living, not Existing’ paper really highlights the contribution that therapists make to people’s lives and here in Walsall we are extremely proud of the work we do and the relationships we build.”