NHS Airbnb-style scheme 'not ruled out' by minister
The idea of NHS hospital patients recuperating in Airbnb-style accommodation has not been ruled out, health minister Philip Dunne has said.
Southend Hospital had been linked to a trial where hospital patients could be discharged to people's spare rooms.
The hospital distanced itself from the idea following criticism by politicians and health groups.
But Mr Dunne told BBC Radio 5 live he "wouldn't immediately reject it" as "one's got to trial different things".
The pilot scheme, proposed in Essex, would have seen some 30 hospital patients staying in local residents' spare rooms instead of in hospital while they waited to be discharged.
The idea followed warnings about delays in discharges from UK hospitals.
As part of the trial, healthcare start-up CareRooms said it would recruit "hosts" whose properties had spare rooms or annexes with a private bathroom.
Southend Hospital later said the pilot would not be supported until certain criteria had been met.
'New care models'
However, when asked by the BBC's deputy political editor John Pienaar if the idea deserved a look, health minister MP Mr Dunne said: "Well, I wouldn't rule it out.
"This is not national policy, anything innovative needs to be very carefully scrutinised and assessed before we proceed with it.
"But I wouldn't, just as an immediate knee jerk, say that new models of care in the community are necessarily wrong."
Mr Dunne added that the idea had involved "people who may have had minor procedures who need a bit of help". It could also include B&B owners who were already medically trained and could offer accommodation, he said.
But Tom Abell, deputy chief executive of Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: "While we welcome and encourage new ideas and innovation, there is no intention and there never has been for the hospital to support this pilot at this time."
A 'sticking plaster'
The idea first emerged last week, when it sparked widespread debate.
Labour's shadow health minister Justin Madders said the scheme would be a "sticking plaster" for wider NHS issues, while shadow social care minister Barbara Keeley warned there were "clear safety risks".
Ex-Labour minister Lord Clark warned that "vulnerable patients" would be allocated to homes where the host had no "medical expertise".
However, Dr Harry Thirkettle, co-founder of CareRooms, said the idea could help patients who either live alone and do not have support leave hospital sooner.
He said that some people may find the scheme preferable to staying in hospital.
An NHS England spokesman said it was "good to hear innovative ideas from NHS staff", but the idea was "a long way from being implemented" and would need to be very "carefully assessed" before being tested.