NHS nurse
The proposal would have involved the NHS paying a private company to match patients with willing hosts Reuters

An NHS hospital in Essex said to have been considering sending patients to recuperate in complete strangers' homes as part of an Airbnb-style scheme appears to have backed away from the proposals.

Southend University Hospital Foundation Trust said on Thursday (26 October) it had no intention of taking part in the initiative "at this time".

It comes after start-up company CareRooms was reported to have been in talks with the trust and local councils to pilot the new initiative, which would see them match patients with homeowners.

Willing local hosts would be paid up to £1,000 a month for providing a bed with access to a private bathroom to those recovering from minor procedures.

They would not be required to have any medical or care training and would simply need to cook three microwave meals for their guests every day.

CareRooms said the scheme would provide "a safe, comfortable place for people to recuperate from hospital" as well as help alleviate bed shortages and save money.

The news was originally reported by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) and quickly made national headlines. It prompted criticism from some medical professionals and social workers who raised concerns over safety.

Southend University Hospital had previously said only preliminary discussions had been held on the initiative.

But in an updated statement, Tom Abell, deputy chief executive of Southend University Hospital, said: "Whilst 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.

"We will never compromise the safety and quality of care for patients and we will not support this pilot until the necessary safeguarding and quality arrangements are in place and there has been full engagement and discussion with our local communities on the proposal, this will happen after a period of detailed work and scoping that we have requested."

CareRooms says its initiative would help alleviate bed blocking, which has risen by 40% in the past year and is estimated to cause up to 8,000 deaths annually.

On some days, 6,000 patients can be taking up beds when they no longer require hospital treatment.

CareRooms' proposed three-month pilot would see 30 patients from Southend University Hospital matched with 10 hosts, who will each be paid up to £50 a day with maximum earnings of £1,000 a month.

The company, which was allowed to hand out fliers in Southend University Hospital advertising its service, would also provide training in care should those providing the rooms wish to earn more money.

CareRooms medical director Harry Thirkettle, a part-time emergency registrar in Essex, said hosts would be subject to "vigorous" background checks.

"Everyone's immediate concern is, understandably, safeguarding," he told the Health Service Journal.

"We are working hard to be better than standard practice. We are not going off half-cocked... We are not going to start taking on patients until we have satisfied all these different organisations' governance procedures and committees. We are really carefully considering this and making sure it is as safe as possible."

But medical professionals and social workers raised concerns about the project, with Labour's shadow social care minister describing it as "terrifying".

Barbara Keeley MP warned there were "clear safety risks" for placing patients with strangers and said the initiative is proof social care is in crisis.

"Now we have been given a terrifying view of what that might mean in practice," she wrote in the Daily Mirror.

"People in need of social care in Essex could be forced to stay with strangers if there's no room in care homes. Call it CareBnB. The Tories' care crisis is now so bad that private homeowners are being asked to help dig them out of it."

Local campaign group Save Southend A&E, whose members include doctors and other clinicians, also criticised the proposals.

It said: "Offering beds in private residential homes opens a huge can of worms for safeguarding, governance and possible financial and emotional abuse of people at their most vulnerable time.

"It is almost weekly that there are reports of abuse and poor care in registered residential and care homes therefore the monitoring of such 'placements' in private homes would be a huge and risky task."

An NHS England spokesman said: "While it's good to hear innovative ideas from NHS staff, this suggestion from an A&E doctor in Southend is a long way from being implemented and would first need to be very carefully assessed and tested."