Tragic deaths of people waiting to leave hospital in Edinburgh and the Lothians branded a 'wake-up call'

At least 40 people have died in Lothian this year waiting to be discharged from hospital because there was no care available to help them at home.

At least 40 people have died in Lothian this year waiting to be discharged from hospital because there was no care available to help them at home (Getty Images)
At least 40 people have died in Lothian this year waiting to be discharged from hospital because there was no care available to help them at home (Getty Images)

The new figures obtained by Freedom of Information requests show that the number of patients who have died in hospital after being declared medically fit for discharge has soared. Across Scotland 432 patients declared fit for discharge have died in hospital so far this year – a 175 per cent increase on 2015. On average 1,832 beds were occupied per day due to delayed discharge in September 2022, the worst national figures on record since 2016.

So far this year 40 people in Lothian have died stuck in hospital because proper care they needed at home was not available, prompting fresh calls from Lothian MSP Miles Briggs for increased investment in social care. It comes amid a backlash over proposals to cut social care support in Edinburgh which have been criticised by the union as a ‘desperate’ bid to cut waiting lists which will put pressure on already over-stretched frontline services.

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A report seen by the Evening News revealed 750 people in the capital are left without care while services struggle with a backlog. We revealed that a damning report by a Scottish Government team sent into Edinburgh's health and social care partnership said the partnership’s duty to carry out an assessment in reasonable time was being “compromised”.

The team, which looked at persistent problems with delayed discharge found that the numbers of elderly and vulnerable people waiting for a bed or care support at home had returned to pre-pandemic levels. In February 2015, then-Health Secretary Shona Robison said that she would eradicate delayed discharge, or bed blocking, by the end of that year.

‘This is a crisis’

“It’s tragic to think of older people stuck in hospital waiting for a care package they desperately need," said Brian Sloan, chief executive of Age Scotland, “Worse still that we’re seeing a consistent number of people dying each year without ever receiving these packages.

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“For far too long there has been a steady increase in the number of older people unable to leave hospital because of a lack of available and appropriate social care support in their community. We understand the immense pressure the NHS and care workers are facing at the moment in coping with demand, leading to increasing backlog. However, this is a crisis which long predates the current challenges in health and social care, and years have gone by without any improvement. If anything, it has become much worse for older people.”

The longer an older person spends in hospital when they are healthy enough to be discharged, Mr Sloan said, the more severe the longer-term impact on their health and recovery is likely to be. He said: “The situation is becoming more and more desperate for those awaiting life-changing care packages. It’s becoming increasingly clear that, without significantly greater investment in social care and the recruitment and retention of much more qualified staff, we have little chance of breaking this vicious cycle.”

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‘Social care must be properly funded’

Lothian MSP Miles Briggs (Conservative) said: “These figures are tragic. Having people stuck in a hospital bed, despite being medically fit to leave, is bad for the person and stops hospitals being able to operate as effectively. When people are stuck in hospital for a long amount of time it is detrimental to their health and takes away vital hospital capacity from front line services. Social care must be properly funded and we need to see more care in the community to deal with the increase in demand for social care in Edinburgh and the Lothian’s.

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Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Secretary, Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP said: “These are patients who were medically fit to go back to their homes and loved ones, but who ended up dying still stuck in hospital because vital social-care support was not available to them. This is deeply distressing for patients and heartbreaking for their families – but the knock-on effects of ‘bed blocking’ are felt right across our NHS, as patients in desperate need of hospital beds can’t get them.

“The SNP knew the scale of this problem back in 2015. Yet instead of taking concrete action to tackle it, they sat on their hands and allowed more than 3,000 patients to die awaiting discharge in the last eight years. Humza Yousaf should take these shocking figures as a wake-up call, U-turn on the National Care Service, and take concrete action to finally make good on this eight-year-old promise.”

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A spokesperson from the Edinburgh Health and Partnership commented:

“The pressures on Health and Social Care is a continuing national picture, with recruitment remaining a particularly significant challenge. Our aim is always to get people home at the soonest possible opportunity once they are clinically well. Enormous efforts continue right across the system to do this including ongoing support and discussions with people in hospital and their family members, keeping them fully updated wherever there may be delays.”