Health: Patients are not to blame for ‘bed blocking’ problems

An elderly patient is treated in A&E at Leeds General Infirmary. Picture by Anna Gowthorpe.
An elderly patient is treated in A&E at Leeds General Infirmary. Picture by Anna Gowthorpe.
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Tackling bed blocking is a must if the NHS is to become more sustainable on a local and national level, but let’s not blame the patients.

The news that Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust (LTH) has spent more than £10million on hospital beds for patients who have been well enough to be sent home over the last three years is pretty shocking.

But the term ‘bed blocking’, where the discharge of patients is delayed due to issues like waiting for care home places, further NHS care or assessments, suggests those patients making use of hospital beds are at fault.

In truth there is only so much that patients or the local hospital trust can do to fix the issue. Those stuck in hospital often would like nothing better than to go home, while the trust is bound by the limitations of the wider health care economy.

Government cuts are at the root of the problem, which is a huge national talking point.

Tightening the budgets of Leeds City Council and NHS providers over many years has led Leeds to rely almost solely on privately-run care facilities while hospital staffing and provision is under pressure in the face of increased demand.

Both the NHS and patients want for a quick turnaround, where treatment is efficient and hospital beds are made available for those who really need them, as the impact of bed blocking means A&E departments become clogged up and waiting times lengthened.

But there is no quick fix to the national bed blocking crisis despite ongoing work to address it in places like Leeds.

The figures are stark and the answer is not simple, but it’s an answer central Government surely needs to come up with.

FIGURES SHOW SIZE OF THE TASK AHEAD

Bed blocking has cost Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust over £10million in the last three years.

In 2014 alone almost 1,800 Leeds patients had their discharge from hospital delayed due to issues like waiting for care home places or further NHS care.

The number of ‘delayed days’, when a hospital bed is filled by a patient who could be sent home, surpassed 20,000 in 2014 – almost a quarter more than in 2013.

When January 2014 and 2015 are compared, waiting for a place at a care home, nursing home or for home care provision accounted for more than a quarter of cases this year, but just a sixth of 1,270 cases the year prior.

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