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What to do in an emergency - Part one

Help. Dad is very unwell. He is so bad, he is not safe at home. I cannot get anyone from social services on the phone. His carer said he should be in hospital. His doctor will not come. Something terrible is going to happen. I live miles away. What do I do?

People use pejorative terms such as bed-blocking but the simple fact is, if there has been a sudden collapse in health, there is probably a medical reason for it and an older person deserves to be in hospital - not left to die on their own and in need of treatment.



Do not be put off by figures showing five people called the ambulance

more than 8,000 in a year.

  If your father or mother is so unwell they are at risk,

they need medical care. Call now.  

In short: telephone an ambulance.

If you cannot raise anyone at social services - there's a surprise - and you cannot get a medical opinion,

if your parent is unsafe, there is only one thing to do.


  • If your father or mother is so unwell that they are a danger to themselves, do it now.

  • Do not leave them alone at home.

  • Do not hope that they are going to be better tomorrow.

  • Older people’s health can deteriorate very quickly and they need urgent treatment.

  • You will regret it, if you do nothing.

In long: this is not unusual.

This is an everyday occurrence for many middle-aged children, coping with the sudden health collapse of an ageing parent.


One day your parent may seem fine, the next day a small medical issue, such as a urine infection, can cause a total collapse in health and the next day they may not be with you anymore. It happens. But all they may need is a short stay in hospital, receiving urgent medical treatment.


You need to act fast. Once they have received treatment, an older person can recover quickly. But, inevitably there is no one to help, to ask.

You need to take measures you might not usually consider:

  • If your parent has suddenly become unsafe, is unable to remain alone at home or with an equally old partner, if they need medical attention, pay no attention to concerns about crazy people making multiple calls. Do not be afraid to call an ambulance.

  • Insist that it is not safe for them, that they need treatment, and that they need to be taken to hospital;

  • Go with them to the hospital, if possible, and talk to everyone who is treating them;

  • Make sure you find out who everyone is and explain what is wrong – if you know.


At this point, the danger is that your parent will simply be sent home again – back to where they were unsafe and deteriorating possibly with occasional visits from care staff. But, if you believe this is not safe, you need to say so.

The next danger is that they will try to send your parent to a nursing home. If you think your parent has medical needs which should be addressed – and why else would they have suffered a complete collapse – then say so.


If you think that they just need to recover, in order for them to return to their own home, be insistent. If there is  going to be no way back to health, they may go into residential care. But do not be bullied into taking overnight decisions and remember, this should not be the starting point, unless you believe it is. You do not have to make instant decisions. Once your parent has gone to a residential home, realistically they will not receive proper treatment and will not be going home again.

 The key next steps are:

  1. Do not allow the hospital to send your parent home until:

  • They know what is wrong with your parent.

  • Your parent will be safe at home, alone for much of the day.

  • There is a package of care which will adequately provide for their needs.



2. Talk to all the relevant people:

  • The hospital consultant. You want them to find out why your parent suddenly collapsed. You need them on your side. Make sure they realise your parent will be alone if sent home.

  • The hospital social work team.  You may not be able to get them on the phone, but they will be at the hospital. Talk to them. They need to be made aware that your parent is unsafe alone at home and that they need medical treatment, not residential care. You can demand an assessment and ask for help organising a package of care, if you're paying for it yourself.

  • Nursing staff. They can advise on what is happening, what treatment your parent needs to get back on their feet, whether this can be provided at home or if it needs to be in hospital. Make sure they know you are around and give them all your numbers and contact details. You want to be there if any decisions are being made - or at least consulted, otherwise, it might be claimed your parent is mobile, when they would be totally immobile at home.

  • Discharge staff. They will try to get your parent out of hospital as soon as possible. They need to be made aware that your parent will be alone and unsafe if they are sent home without recovering. If they say they want to send your parent to a residential home, resist, unless you are really sure this is what they want.

  • Once they are out of hospital, they will not receive proper medical treatment. It can take quite a while for a placement to be made and you would have to agree to it. You can take your time.

  • Do not be bullied into putting them in the local no-go home.

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