BRITAIN’S largest charity for the elderly has started a new social enterprise firm partly aimed at tackling the county’s chronic “bed blocking” issue.

Age UK Oxfordshire hopes Four Rivers will help free up hospital beds by providing care in the home.

Bed blocking occurs when a patient is well enough to leave hospital but does not because home support is not in place.

Oxfordshire County Council contract companies to provide home care, but this service often struggles to keep up.

This has seen the county regularly ranked amongst the worst places in England for bed blocking.

The latest NHS snapshot survey, on January 30, found 151 people were in a hospital bed but well enough to go home. Four Rivers said it could help cut bed blocking by taking on elderly and infirm people “in a much quicker timeframe than social ser-vices can usually offer”.

Based in Oxford and Banbury, it has started recruiting staff and clients, with 30 workers and 40 customers on its books already.

Four Rivers does not have a contract with the council but hopes residents will sign up to pay from their own funds.

All profits will go back to Age UK Oxfordshire.

Banbury Cake:

Age UK Oxfordshire chief executive Paul Cann

Users can use cash from personal budgets – funds given by social services to people to spend on their care – to access Four Rivers’ services, which cost from £18 an hour. People with disabilities and long-term conditions will also be given this spending choice from April 1.

Four Rivers managing director Pam Woolley said: “Demand for help is growing but public funding is under ever greater pressure.

“There are already several thousand people in the cou-nty whose needs for care and support are not being met.”

It provides help with domestic tasks, helps clients find traders, installs equipment such as stair lifts and gives companionship to the lonely. But staff will not help with personal or intimate care.

One client is Banbury widower John Rowing, 88, who is visited twice a week.

Daughter Jane Jelleyman said: “Without them, me and my sisters would be really struggling to cope.

Banbury Cake:

  • Judith Heathcoat, of Oxfordshire County Council

“Before, the big question was about one of us giving up work to look after dad. But he’s still got his independence and can get out and about.”

Age UK Oxfordshire chief executive Paul Cann said: “As a charity, we’re aware that the pressure for councils to cut spending is increasing, so we need to find alternative ways to sustain some of our core local services.”

Judith Heathcoat, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for adult social care, said: “It fits in well with the council’s overall plan to increase choice for people who need support.

“Any initiative which helps people who are fit to leave hospital to leave sooner than they might have otherwise is, of course, to be welcomed.”