Bed-blocking 'detrimental' to hospital care

PUBLISHED: 12:00 28 March 2016

Nurse checking female patient's pulse on wrist, close-up

Nurse checking female patient's pulse on wrist, close-up

(c) Jochen Sands

North Somerset's healthcare providers want to discharge more people from hospital into care homes to alleviate a bed-blocking 'crisis'.

Last week 14 leading doctors wrote to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne saying the care sector needs more funding to tackle bed-blocking.

The doctors say patients fit to be discharged are unable to leave hospital because support is unavailable at home, due to the chronic underfunding of NHS social care.

In the letter to the Government, the doctors said the lack of available beds for new patients led to cancelled appointments and operations.

They wrote: “This impacts on our ability to provide timely treatment and meet treatment targets, risking patient wellbeing, and is ultimately detrimental to the economy through delayed returns to work.”

North Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) says at any one time there are on average 30 patients who are waiting for extra support to be put in place so they can leave hospital.

North Somerset Council, North Somerset Community Partnership, the CCG and Weston Area Health Trust launched Discharge to Assess last year in an attempt to alleviate the pressure.

The scheme has been running in Bristol and South Gloucestershire for the past year and allows patients who no longer need to be in hospital to return home or go to a care home.

The CCG’s commissioning manager Lee Colwill said: “Bed-blocking is an emotive issue but actually the complex cases are largely in the minority.

“Every day there is a significant amount of movement in and out of the hospital and most people do this without any difficulties.

“We do have a large population of elderly people and they are more likely to have extra needs and long-term health needs and we have to find the right package for them, whether it is in their own home or a care setting or in a rehab facility.

“As good as the care is in hospital, people are going to make bigger gains at home where they are comfortable.”

In North Somerset, the scheme usually supports around 20 people at any one time. These people might need two or three visits a day from a carer or therapist but are otherwise safe to be at home.

The next phase of the scheme, which healthcare providers are hoping to implement in the coming year, is for people who are too unwell to return home or need longer to recover, but could be transferred to a care home or nursing home for intensive therapy.

The CCG will be working with care homes to try to make sure there are a certain number of beds available for the scheme.

But Gordon Butcher, the owner of Lyndhurst Park care home, says homes need to be better-funded first.

He said: “This crisis is as a result of over a decade of under-investment in the care sector by the Government. Capacity within the nursing care sector has shrunk over the past five years and continues to do so.

“The investment in building new nursing homes has all but frozen owing the sector’s financial instability.

“The operational effectiveness of any hospital is heavily reliant on bed availability, in crude terms, if a hospital cannot discharge patients through the back door then it cannot admit patients through the front entrance.

“It is pointless ring-fencing health care while cutting social care budgets – one is totally reliant on the other.”

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