VULNERABLE patients at the John Radcliffe will this winter be given specialist help and support by Age UK Oxfordshire staff in an effort to reduce the amount of time they spend in a hospital bed.

The move is part of the ‘winter plan’, launched earlier this week, which will see the county’s entire health and care system unified under a winter director.

The Age UK Oxfordshire Discharge Support Team will work with doctors, nurses, and therapists across the hospital with the ultimate aim of freeing up more beds as winter pressures mount.

Head of community development at Age UK Oxfordshire, Ruth Swift, said the team of 12 will expect to have contact with at least 1,600 patients before March, and if a portion of those stays can be reduced by just one or two days, then that could free up hundreds of extra bed days for other patients.

After finding out more about the patient, Age UK Oxfordshire staff can then refer to community support services such as Carers Oxfordshire, Headway Oxfordshire, or stroke services.

Ms Swift said: “We see ourselves as the doorway to community support.

“We will sit and chat with them to get a good overview of the patient and what their needs are.

She added: “People are not just then a condition, they are a whole community themselves.

“Whether they have got friends or family or not, you have to see the whole picture.

“They might have the same medical condition as another patient but they will have a different solution that helps them get home sooner.”

The team was piloted over six months earlier this year with positive results.

Oxfordshire’s hospitals have often been crippled by a shortage of beds particularly over winter.

Last year a mix of a lack of staff and Delayed Transfers of Care, also known as bed blocking, contributed to hundreds of operations having to be be cancelled.

Often patients find themselves physically well enough but owing to the lack of community care arrangements, cannot be discharged.

Recent improvements have been made in tackling bed blocking, however, at the latest count in July there were still 70 beds at the trust’s hospitals being needlessly occupied.

Mrs Swift added: “We need to understand what is preventing them from going home.”

The team, based across the two short stay wards at the JR, is being funded through combination of the county’s winter plan budget and NHS funding.

Ward sister on the female short stay ward, Frances Riley, said: “They were really valuable last winter and made a real difference.

“Sometimes myself and the nurses feel like we don’t have as much time to spend with the patients as we’d like.

"They can pick up on some of the things that we miss.”