Bed blocking crisis worsens as figures climb to new high

Forward care is often not available for over-75s. Picture: TSPL
Forward care is often not available for over-75s. Picture: TSPL
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HEALTH bosses are being urged to make “radical changes” to solve the Lothians’ mounting bed blocking crisis after the number of
elderly stuck in hospital reached a record high.

New figures show that patients who were well enough to be discharged to care homes or their own homes instead spent 33,000 bed-days in hospital between January and March this year.

Age Scotland branded the figures “unacceptable” – with the majority of those forced to stay in hospital aged 75 and over because the appropriate forward care was not in place.

The rising numbers – particularly severe in Edinburgh – are being blamed on a soaring ageing population as well as a shortage of care home beds.

A spokesman for the charity said: “There needs to be radical change in how we deliver services if we are to respond to the needs of our ageing population.

“Far greater investment is required in local networks of community care providers to help bring an end to the practice of bed blocking.”

The statistics show NHS Lothian remains the worst in Scotland for delayed discharges – known as “bed blocking” – because patients are unable to be transferred out of hospital, meaning vital bed space in hospitals is blocked from being used by other patients.

It lost an additional 4000 hours on the same period last year with the number of elderly trapped in hospitals up 15 per cent in just a year.

Politicians were unanimous in their condemnation, calling for more to be done to address the enduring problem.

Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlaw MSP said it was a “nightmare for patients, families and staff”.

“The problem is getting worse not just in Edinburgh, but across the whole country,” he said. “Bed blocking doesn’t help anyone, but for over-75s it is a particularly undignified way to spend the vulnerable years of their lives.”

Green MSP Alison Johnstone said action must be “stepped up”, adding: “There is clearly a crisis in the care situation with older patients stuck in hospital, and I’m aware of some distressing and frustrating situations in Lothian region.”

NHS Lothian and city council chiefs said a raft of measures were in place to tackle the problem.

Peter Gabbitas, director of health and social care for the city council, said the care at home provision had been increased to unprecedented levels, up 17 per cent in 18 months – but this was still not enough to cope with the huge demand. He said: “It is really quite exceptional, the demand that is being place upon us.”

Melanie Johnson, director of unscheduled care at NHS Lothian, said: “In partnership with our social care colleagues, we are seeing an improvement in home care packages and services to support people in their community. We are also developing more integrated working across GPs, acute hospitals and community care, with the aim of providing a range of options for home care, care homes and NHS beds.”