7.3% of Lothians patients fit to go home but care shortage forces stay

Bed-blocking is a particular problem in the Lothians
Bed-blocking is a particular problem in the Lothians
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THE proportion of beds being taken up by elderly patients who have become stranded in hospital is higher in the Lothians than in any other part of Scotland.

New figures show that between April and June, an average of 7.3 per cent of NHS Lothian beds were occupied by patients whom doctors had deemed fit enough to leave – but were stuck because of a lack of appropriate care, support or accommodation outside hospital.

In the three-month period, 24,779 valuable bed days – or around 270 beds each day – were lost, increasing pressure on NHS Lothian’s already strained resources.

Of a sample of delayed discharge patients who remained in Lothian hospitals in July despite being well enough to leave, around a quarter had been marooned for at least four weeks, at least ten had been stuck for between seven and 12 weeks while two had been waiting more than three months.

Although the health board has made some progress in its bid to tackle bed-blocking in recent years, the number of lost bed days increased in the latest quarter, from 23,873 between January and March.

Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said that the figures showed that NHS Lothian was “creaking at the seams”.

She added: “When people are stuck in hospital it’s not good for them and it leads to operations being cancelled. Lothian’s waiting times are already the worst in Scotland. Too many people are admitted to hospital because there’s not enough home-based emergency support.

“We also need more resources for post-operative care and for a decent social care system. The SNP Government’s underfunded council tax freeze has put huge pressure on care packages for people with long-term health conditions who are ending up stuck in hospital.”

More than half of delayed discharge patients in the Lothians in July were waiting for a care home place, while others needed a community care assessment and at least 18 were waiting to go back to their own home but needed support in place.

The figures suggest the care system in Edinburgh is under the most strain, with 87 of a sample of 106 delayed 
discharge patients in July from the Capital, 44 of whom were waiting for a care home place.

Ricky Henderson, the city’s health leader, said that around 120 new care home beds in Edinburgh are to become available in coming months. He added: “There is also the integration of health and social care, which will ensure resources are used more effectively.”

The 7.3 per cent of beds taken up in the Lothians by delayed discharge patients over the three months was well above the national average of 5.4 per cent. At Scotland’s biggest health board, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 4.5 per cent of bed days were lost to delayed discharge patients.

Professor Alex McMahon, director of strategic planning and primary care for NHS Lothian, said: “We work closely with social care colleagues in each of the four local authorities to minimise the problems associated with delayed discharged. This partnership approach is working and already we are seeing positive results in West Lothian where the most recent figures show that for the second census in a row, no patients in West Lothian are waiting longer than necessary to be discharged. We hope to see an increase in the number of care home beds available across Lothian and better support for people at home and in the community.”