Are delays to DFGs holding people back in hospital?


A study by the leading disability charity Leonard Cheshire has found that 67 percent of councils had disabled residents waiting longer than the 12-month statutory maximum deadline for completing essential home adaptation work. Furthermore, across 180 councils, an average of over 1,000 people per year waited longer than 12 months for completion of adaptations.

This is made even more shocking due to the fact that by law councils are required to approve or reject Disabled Facilities Grant (or DFGs) applications within 6 months of application and then ensure that all works are completed within 12 months.

The gravity of the situation is further highlighted as on average in January 2020 5,182 people a day were unnecessarily stuck in hospital after they finished treatment – not only losing their mobility and independence, but occupying a bed that could be used for other purposes. With additional pressure on the NHS from an upcoming with winter and a potential second wave of COVID-19 this situation needs to be addressed urgently.

There are many crucial works that can be done to improve the quality of life of the elderly and of people with disabilities including tasks like widening doors, putting in grab rails around high-risk areas such as entrances and bathrooms. Making the house more accessible for people to live in independently reduces the risk of physical injury and helps to keep people at home in a familiar environment.

In order to reduce the existing considerable burden on the NHS there is equipment, much of which is reusable, available which can enable many people to return home from hospital much more quickly which is often for more cost effective than staying in hospital. Examples of these include the powered baths to help the mobility challenged user in and out of the water safely or vacuum positioning aids which can provide a specified support for eating and sleeping.

DFGs are an excellent mechanism for funding adaptations to people’s homes enabling them to live there safely and independently.  A straightforward replacement of a difficult to use bath with an adapted walk-in shower not only makes bathing easier but helps people to live longer in their own home. However, many have expressed their concerns with the application forms which 20 out of 35 disabled people found ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ filling in according to an online survey conducted by Leonard Cheshire and Disability Horizons. In addition, these grants take months to be allocated and so people in need of immediate adaptations to their homes either have to suffer at home or end up blocking hospital beds unnecessarily.

One could argue that there is an urgent need for innovation within an adversarial system that leads to councils and hospitals competing over budgets rather than pooling them and working collaboratively to deliver the most adapted and suitable solution. On the contrary it seems professionals are frequently constrained to offer safe options that have been tried and tested, instead of offering more efficient and cost-effective options that diverge from the traditional path. For example a wet room being specified when an adapted bathroom with an ultra-low level shower may be just as practical and effective for a fraction of the cost.

In a time tainted by coronavirus there should be an imperative to provide home adaptions quickly so people can move out of hospitals and not only gain independence but also reduce the strain on hospitals already suffering from the influx of patients. We hope in the coming months there will be a focus on this from the government and local councils so that people can live with a better quality of life in their own homes.