By Caring Times editor GEOFF HODGSON Centuries ago, we built cathedrals. In the early twentieth century, the big teaching hospitals symbolised the secular summit of civilisation. These days it’s glass and concrete towers of corporate aggrandisement and out-of-town shopping centres – which should tell us something about ourselves. There are not many new teaching hospitals on the draftsman’s screen, and still fewer cathedrals.
But here’s a paradox: while cathedrals are becoming progressively emptier, hospitals are bursting at the seams – it’s almost as if, having lost confidence in the idea of the great beyond, we have become ever more determined to prolong our mortal existences – a bird in the hand, so to speak.
Yet hospitals, we know, are dangerous places – there are thousands of potential mistakes waiting to be made; the chances of picking up a nasty infection are much higher than elsewhere and, because of staff shortages, the overall quality of care often leaves much to be desired. Frail, elderly people are most at risk from these citadels of sickness.
So it’s a very good thing that advances in medical and surgical treatment mean that the average length of stay in a hospital has steadily reduced – it is now just six days. This could come down even more if we could only stop seeing hospitals as being the flagships of the healthcare system – they are more the hulks. This is happening, with health services being disseminated via health campuses and the like, but too slowly, and there seems to be a perverse trend in closing small, community hospitals.
At least we are building care homes – modest constructs compared to cathedrals, hospitals, shopping centres and bombastic bastions of corporate finance, but places where elderly people can live out their lives in comfort and dignity. Care homes are undoubtedly a social good and, with a little imagination and willingness to engage on the part of healthcare services, could become effective providers of sub-acute care – a safer haven than a hospital ward.
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