Sarah Boyack: Budgets not keeping pace with needs

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Last week’s Evening News headlines reported “meltdown” on our hospital wards due to the impact of unscheduled care and the pressures of delayed discharges.

In the year to March 2014, almost 120,000 bed days were lost due to patients medically cleared for discharge, but stuck in hospital. That represents more than a fifth of the national total.

If we had the right care facilities available locally some hospital admissions would be avoided and patients could return home or to specialised support earlier to recover fully. It’s not good for patients to be stuck in hospital as they are vulnerable to hospital-acquired infections.

Pressure on hospital bed availability also means that planned operations are hit, resulting in delays and cancellations for planned operations.

The average cost of keeping a patient in an acute hospital is around £4000 a week, compared with £1800 in a community hospital, £600 in a nursing home and £300 for home care.

The Scottish Government estimate that around £100-£115 million could be freed up if people received the appropriate care. But when I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Health recently about shifting resources he said that the methodology being worked on would not be available till next spring.

In Lothian the number of older people is predicted to increase dramatically, with the expectation that the number of those aged over 65 will grow by 70 per cent over the next 20 years. Last year, plans to reopen facilities at the Royal Victoria were brought forward to increase capacity and last week NHS Lothian reported that beds in Corstorphine Hospital were being brought back into use.

We urgently need more investment in care homes and care services in Edinburgh and we will need more investment in the long term too.

In a debate on housing in the Scottish Parliament last Tuesday I noted the rising number of older people needing accessible, affordable housing and care.

Investment in our NHS will be a key battleground in next year’s election. On Thursday the SNP Government will be setting out its budget plans. We’ve now had seven-and-a-half years of the underfunded council tax freeze and an unprecedented squeeze on local government funding.

Hard-pressed council budgets are not keeping pace with demands for more care and support for older people. The benefits of effective action would not just be financial. The prize is the possibility of significantly improved health outcomes, a better quality of life and dignity for older people.

• Sarah Boyack is a Lothian Labour MSP