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Bed blocking crisis in our hospitals

Patients are stuck in hospital beds waiting to be discharged
Patients are stuck in hospital beds waiting to be discharged
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Hundreds of patients a week are stuck in Lancashire hospitals – even though they are well enough to be discharged – at a time when bosses are having to put on extra beds to cope with huge demand.

Every single week more than 700 days are lost across the county because beds are being taken up by patients waiting to be sent home – who neither need nor want to be in hospital.

And the number has risen in the past 12 months as a lack of Government funding for social care has been blamed for the delays, which can then lead to delays for patients waiting to be admitted.

It comes after The Gazette revealed Blackpool Victoria Hospital has been running at close to full capacity in recent weeks due to an ‘unprecedented number of patients’.

Despite a steady rise in council spending on adult social care, which stands at more than £400m a year across Lancashire, more than two fifths of the delays – known as delayed transfers of care – are down to patients waiting for a place in a residential or nursing home or for a care package to enable them to go home safely.

And the Alzheimer’s Society has said around a quarter of those forced to wait will suffer from dementia.

Deborah Parker, operations manager at at the charity’s Lancashire branch, said: “With such scarce social care funding, wards are being turned into waiting rooms, and safety is being jeopardised.

“From the woman who spent two months on a bed in a corridor because there were no available care home places, to the man who died after months of waiting left him debilitated by hospital-acquired infections, people with dementia are repeatedly falling victim to a system that cannot meet their needs.

“One million people will have dementia by 2021, yet local authorities’ social care budgets are woefully inadequate, and no new money has been promised in the budget to cope with increasing demand.”

In Blackpool, 10,267 days were lost to delayed transfers of care between October 2016 and September this year.

Although that was a rise of just 152 overall compared to the previous 12 months - the number of days lost waiting for care arrangements to be made was up 1,174.

Meanwhile, the latest data from NHS England shows there were only five days in December where bed occupancy at the Vic was below 745 - the hospitals number of ‘core’ bed available - meaning it was relying on ‘escalation’ beds put on to cope with extreme pressure.

The resort, which has seen its adult social care spend rise from £61m in 2013/14 to £76m this year, has been praised by the Government for it efforts to reduce delayed transfers of care.

Coun Amy Cross, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for adult services and health, said part of the challenge was reducing the number of people going to hospital in the first place.

She added: “Spend on adult social care has risen over the last few years. However, there are massive pressures on the health and social care system given that there are a lot more people with a lot more complex needs that require care intervention.

“Blackpool is experiencing these pressures alongside many other health and social care authorities.

“Like many issues relating to health and social care, freeing up hospital beds for new patients is a complex and many-stranded challenge.

“Beds may not become free because it can sometimes take a little while for people to make the necessary arrangements to choose a suitable home and then to move, often needing the support of relatives who may work or live out of town.”

Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, said: “It is important we have a system where patients are able to move from hospital to social care when it is appropriate to do so.

“That is why the Government is committed to delivering greater joined-up working between hospitals and other care providers. Blackpool is at the very forefront of this new model.

“Earlier this year the Chancellor promised an extra £2bn to support social care in England and Wales and last month he unveiled an additional £2.8bn investment in the NHS which will help services deal with the huge increases in demand we have seen since 2010.”

Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “Clearing hospital beds is an absolute priority and it is nonsensical to keep people in hospital when it is not a necessity.

“Our fantastic consultants, clinicians, doctors and nurses are treating more people than ever before - we need to ensure they can move patients along to the next stage of treatment or care at the first available opportunity.

“That is better for the patient, better for hospital staff, and better for new patients who need urgent treatment.”

A recent report by Healthwatch said councils have 48 from being told that a patient is ready to be discharged to make arrangements, else the delay is blamed on social care.

It added: “Over the last three years the number of delayed transfers attributed to social care has increased by 130 per cent. This compares with a 25 per cent increase in the number of delays caused by the NHS.

“As a result pressure is being placed on councils to do more to increase capacity in social care and help get patients out of hospital.”

But it warned too much focus on people in hospital, at the expense of those in need of social care in the community would be ‘short sighted’.

The report added: “To ensure the system as a whole invests in social care in the right way, it is vital that councils develop a better understanding of local demand.”

The Gazette reported last week how dying patients could be taken from the Vic to Trinity Hospice to ease the pressure on the hospital.

Trinity bosses agreed to relax admission policies to help with record levels of demand.

Medical director Dr Susan Salt said: “I am aware that this will impact on our workload but it is right that we support our colleagues in the NHS through this challenging time.”

A spokesman for the NHS on the Fylde coast said earlier this month: “Plans are made to cope with a rise in demand over winter but the demand at the moment has exceeded expectations in terms of numbers and the sickness levels of patients.

“Extra medical and nursing staff have been employed in all key areas and extra beds have opened at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.”