'Patients in tears' as hospital support service to prevent bed blocking is scrapped in Kent

  • WATCH: ITV News Meridian's Kit Bradshaw speaks to affected patients and staff.

Patients have been left 'in tears' after a support service for vulnerable and elderly people aimed at preventing bed blocking in major hospitals was scrapped.  

The charity-run scheme had been helping an estimated 100 people a month in Kent, before it had its NHS funding withdrawn at the end of last month.

ITV News Meridian understands ten staff lost their jobs, along with a small team of volunteers, when the service's contract was not renewed. 

The teams worked at the Maidstone and Medway Maritime hospitals, supporting patients at their homes for 4-6 weeks after discharge, with the goal of preventing readmission. 

The support service had been running at the Medway Maritime Hospital for more than two years.

Cancer patient Jackie Billingham, from Gillingham, had been receiving help with lifts to appointments and shopping for six months. 

She said: "I was devastated because there's not just me, there’s a lot of people that rely on this service and it just didn't make sense that they just stopped it, just like that."

The scheme was known as 'Supporting Your Recovery' and run by the Royal Voluntary Service. Its NHS England funding ended at the end of March. 

'Sasha' – not her real name – had been helping run the service in Kent. She told ITV News Meridian: "We had clients in tears when we told them that the  service was ending. They didn't know how they were going to get to their appointments, get their shopping, collect their prescriptions or anything like that. You don't realise how many people have nobody."

Maidstone Hospital said it is using the services of another charity to support patients.

The scheme had been operating at Maidstone Hospital since last autumn and at the Medway Maritime for more than two years.

'Toni', another former member of staff speaking on the condition on anonymity, said: “[They’ll be] bed blocking. People are going to be staying in hospital longer because they haven't got the help they need."

Jackie Billingham has now found an alternative charity to help with lifts to her chemotherapy appointments, but unlike the previous system, they are not free of charge. 

She said: "Obviously it's not extortionate, but it's still a worry for me because I have to go twice in one week and it's a lot of money for me to find."

NHS England and the Royal Voluntary Service have been approached for comment.