Council leaders snub hospital bed blocking tour

Health chief Cllr Ricky Henderson had a budget meeting. Picture: Jane Barlow
Health chief Cllr Ricky Henderson had a budget meeting. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A HOSPITAL tour designed to educate city chiefs about bed blocking had to be cancelled – because councillors said they were too busy.

NHS Lothian had organised a briefing at the Royal Infirmary, and it was anticipated that delayed discharges – when patients are well enough to leave hospitals but are unable to do so as they have no care home place or homecare package ready – would feature prominently in discussions.

But the event, scheduled on the same day that 136 patients were unnecessarily stuck in the region’s hospitals, was postponed at short notice when council representatives signalled that they would not be able to make it.

As a result of the snub, the health board’s chairman, Dr Charles Winstanley, suggested writing to city health leader, Ricky Henderson, to express the concerns of the NHS Lothian healthcare governance committee.

Cllr Henderson said he had been unable to attend the briefing as he had been called to another meeting about his department’s 2013-14 budget, but that the authority was committed to reducing delayed discharges by providing more support in the community.

He said: “I think a number of people said they couldn’t make it because of a clash with other meetings. Someone decided it wasn’t worthwhile and to postpone. We all know the scale of the challenge and that delayed discharges are a major issue for the council and NHS Lothian.

“We are tackling it and significant progress has been made.”

The number of bed-blocking patients in Lothian hospitals hit a four-year high in October. The soaring figure was one of the reasons for the reopening of the old Royal Victoria Hospital building, where patients waiting to go home or receive care packages are currently being sent.

At the healthcare governance committee meeting in December, held on the same day that the briefing with councillors had been due to take place, NHS Lothian nurse director Malanie Hornett said it was “disappointing” that the event had not gone ahead.

It was pointed out that the vast majority of patients that get stuck in hospital are from the Edinburgh City Council area, where care homes are under intense pressure.

At the committee meeting, it was noted that West Lothian Council has a long history of no delayed discharges.

Dr Winstanley said it was “important that pressure was not lifted from City of Edinburgh Council about their responsibility to provide care packages for these people”.

Conservative MSP and health spokesperson Jackson Carlaw said patients clogging up wards when they are fit to be discharged was “the last thing” NHS Lothian needed.

He added: “It’s up to councils to speed up the process for assessing patients and finding them appropriate alternatives.”

The dangers of delaying

HIGH levels of delayed discharges can cause problems across hospitals as the patient flow is severely disrupted. It is also believed that the mental health of patients who are delayed in hospital can be harmed.

In October, delayed discharges hit a peak when 350 patients in Lothian became stranded over the course of the month. The figure fell to 331 in November and 328 in December.

Of a sample 139 patients waiting to be discharged in December, 28 had been waiting beyond four weeks and 16 had been waiting longer than six weeks.