A sweeping overhaul of the support for elderly people is set to be unveiled this year, with the government promising that every older patient will be assigned a dedicated NHS 'case manager' to navigate them through primary healthcare.
These case managers would oversee support for elderly patients' medical and care needs as they move between hospitals, GPs, residential care and their homes, to ease pressure on A&E departments.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the way hospitals are set up to support frail and elderly people would be examined, along with the role of GPs. NHS England also unveiled plans for two-thirds of people with dementia to be identified and supported by 2015
Mr Hunt promised to restore confidence in an out-of-hours service which he said was 'badly damaged'.
The measures form part of the government's pledge to close the gap between health and social care by 2018.
Mr Hunt said: 'This will require a great deal of work, asking difficult questions and making tough decisions. If it leads to more personal, more integrated and more compassionate care, then it stands as an important step forward.'
But Ben Bowers, professional lead community nursing (honorary), at Hertfordshire Community NHS Trust, was uncertain how successful Mr Hunt's suggestion would be in practice, if there were to be an absence of investment in appropriate staffing levels in the community.
He said that having a named healthcare professional to oversee and coordinate vulnerable elderly people's care is 'logical and can be effective', adding that a number of community nurses already carry out this role, but he warned that health professionals need the time and skills to join up clinically appropriate health and social care.
'There is a danger that any initiative is announced without adequate resources and planning to ensure that vulnerable people's needs are supported,' he said. 'Unless suitable resources are put in place, vulnerable people could have key workers [that are] unable to give the time to make a meaningful difference.'
The RCN's policy director Howard Catton raised concerns that existing nursing staff would have to carry out the coordinator role, claiming this would not be practical with their already stretched workloads