Health boss: Bed blocking’s behind waiting times crisis

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THE health chief tasked with stopping excessive waits for NHS treatments believes his work is being “compromised” by bed blocking.

Jim Crombie, director of scheduled care at NHS Lothian, admitted bed shortages were causing lengthy delays for patients awaiting treatment.

The Evening News revealed yesterday how hundreds of operations have already been cancelled as a result of the spiralling number of patients trapped in hospital because further care is not in place.

New figures for the end of August revealed 568 patients were left waiting beyond a 12-week target for treatment compared to 354 in September last year.

The blip comes as a raft of measures – unveiled by NHS Lothian in a £60 million blueprint earlier this year – had been making decent inroads into the crippling waiting lists that have plagued NHS Lothian for several years.

Speaking to board members, Mr Crombie confessed the ­situation would continue until the NHS and councils could get to grips with the mounting crisis.

“Both the number of delayed discharges and boarding patients is ­compromising elective care,” he said.

“Patients were not being able to access their elective care and in some circumstances, patients were finding themselves cancelled for a third time and that brings with it the burden of the impact on social care as patients will have made arrangements.”

The board is investing more than £18m this year to increase capacity by recruiting 80 full-time equivalent staff, including consultants, nurses and other clinical support workers in specialities such as ear, nose and throat, ophthalmology and orthopaedics.

But its efforts in providing prompt care are being thwarted by the sharp rise in people ­having to stay longer than ­necessary in hospital.

The problem has been blamed on a soaring ageing population and insufficient care home places, leaving the elderly in particular, stuck in hospital. City council chiefs have also pledged to invest millions into improving social care – taking on more care staff and increasing the hourly rate to businesses providing the services.

Attempts to “ringfence” beds at the Western General last month were abandoned after nine days as it was overwhelmed by new patients.

Mr Crombie said: “We continue to monitor that but right now we are unable to sustain ringfencing of elective beds and right now it is likely that we will see further cancellations because of the bed situation.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said NHS Lothian was “reaching crisis point”.

“Patients will rightly be extremely concerned about just what kind of service they can expect in the upcoming winter months,” he said.

“It’s up to the Scottish Government to ensure health boards have sufficient resources to cope with demand, and winter being around the corner should come as a ­surprise to no-one.”

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com