A Bristol woman who expected to stay in hospital for "a couple of days" before her 100th birthday is still not home almost a month later due to a lack of social care.
Gwyneth Lucas was told by doctors she was well enough to go home on the Monday before Christmas - but the crisis in social care in the community meant she could not be discharged.
She spent both Christmas and her centenary at the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) - and remains in hospital.
Her daughter Rita says her previously fit and healthy mum was deteriorating because she was "stuck" in hospital. She said when Covid meant visiting was stopped, she feared she would never see her again.
After Rita emailed the chief executive of the NHS Trust which runs the BRI, special dispensation was made which meant she was allowed to visit her mum for the first time this year on Tuesday (January 18).
But there appears to be no immediate propsect of the mother-of-six being able to leave hospital and go back to her home in Knowle.
Rita said her mum had been fit and well for a 99-year-old until she suffered a minor fall a little more than a week before Christmas.
“The doctors told her and us she was doing pretty well for her age and she wouldn’t be long in hospital,” said Rita.
“By the Monday (December 20), the doctors said she was medically fit to be discharged, and she was coming home.
"They even called me to ask if I could wait at her home to be there when she arrived, which I did do.
“I was waiting for her, and then the hospital rang again and said they were really sorry but there’s a problem.
"They told me that the care provider had withdrawn their care package right at the last minute, and that meant they couldn’t release her,” she added.
Mrs Lucas had been receiving around six hours of care every day at home - to help her in the mornings and again at teatime and bedtime.
That care had been supplied by Dorset-based care agency Agincare, commissioned by Bristol City Council.
Since then no one has been able to agree a new care package for Mrs Lucas. So, despite being medically fit, she has not left the ward.
Rita said the toll on the whole family has been huge.
“We couldn’t understand it because Agincare and I had been talking and agreed what was going to happen over Christmas,” said Rita.
“It was her 100th birthday on December 28 and we had a little party planned. We’d ordered the cake and everything. It’s just awful.
“She’s a strong woman. Although she’s 100, she’s exceptional for her age - she’s still independent, she’s still very much with it, and healthy.
“But this stay in hospital, it’s not in her best interests. Obviously there are other people in the ward with her, and it’s very distressing for her.
'She’s deteriorating in there. It’s absolutely horrendous'
The University Hospitals NHS Trust tightened the rules on visiting in hospital as Covid cases in Bristol rose sharply at Christmas and the New Year, and Rita and the family were no longer allowed to visit.
“That has been the worst thing of all,” said Rita. “I have tried to speak to her on the phone a lot, and every time, she’s begging me to come and get her and take her home. It’s heartbreaking.
“I feel so helpless, but my biggest fear is that being in there means she goes downhill, she won’t come even though she should be at home, and I’m never going to see her again.
“Just hearing her on the phone is heartbreaking - it’s almost too upsetting to call her, for both of us,” she said
“I’m really pleased that I’m allowed to go and see her, but the fact remains she’s medically fit to come home,” said Rita.
Mrs Lucas is one of as many as 10,000 people across the country who have "delayed discharges". It means they are medically fit to leave hospital but cannot because there is not tan appropriate care package or support in the community for them, either in their own home or in a care setting.
It was one of the biggest issues cited by the North Bristol NHS Trust when it announced the construction of a temporary ‘Nightingale Surge Hub’ for Covid patients in its car park at the end of December.
At the time, NHS bosses in Bristol said: "We also remain very busy with many patients who are medically fit for discharge but are waiting for loved ones to help them home or for a package of care in the community.
"We really want to encourage friends and family to do everything possible to ensure people are not staying a single extra night in hospital that they don’t need to," they added.
Meetings have taken place between social care commissioners at Bristol City Council, doctors, family and Agincare.
A spokesperson for Agincare said: “This is a complex situation, and we appreciate the upset it causes for Gwyneth to remain in hospital.
“The health, safety and wellbeing of those who draw on our care is our absolute priority and we always work very closely with them, their loved ones and other agencies in their best interests.
"In this situation and at the time in question, our understanding is that all parties were unable to agree a safe and appropriate package of care to safely meet Gwyneth’s needs in order for her to safely return home, and we called into the recent meeting to again give our view.
“We understand that conversations are taking place between agencies, which include the family, to agree the best way forward to enable Gwyneth to safely leave hospital; and we are on hand to help with an appropriate package of care if required.
"Our Bristol home care service is fully regulated by the CQC, and was rated Good at recent inspection,” he added.
The University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Trust said they could not discuss Mrs Lucas' case because of patient confidentiality.