More than 170 patients have died waiting to be discharged from Lothian hospitals since ministers made a landmark pledge to eradicate bed blocking from the NHS.
The shocking figures, revealing 174 deaths, laid bare the pressure heaped on struggling hospitals by social care cuts, leaving people who are vulnerable but physically well with nowhere to go due to a shortage of social care.
In February 2015, Health Secretary Shona Robison promised to curb the practice by the end of the year, as extended hospital stays can leave elderly patients vulnerable to infection, dependency and depression.
Critics said the “horrifying” figures showed an urgent need for greater investment in social care. But Ms Robison said the Scottish Government’s plans to shift care away from hospitals would address the problem.
Labour’s health spokesperson Anas Sarwar, who obtained the figures through freedom of information requests, said: “These are horrifying figures.
“This shows that delayed discharges are not just detrimental to patient flow and the running of our hospitals, but that they can be seriously dangerous for the patients involved.
“We know how undervalued and overstretched our NHS staff are, and they should be supported by a proper system to help patients out of hospital as soon as possible.”
Bed blocking has become a major headache for health chiefs, as more than 10,000 hospital bed days were taken up by delayed discharge in October last year, impacting on emergency care and planned operations.
Campaigners warned that patients face “unnecessary anguish” by remaining too long in hospital and called for urgent action to address underfunding of social care.
An Age Scotland spokesperson said: “The system is complex and expensive, but it simply must work better or we’ll continue to see unnecessary anguish for people who are sick and their families.”
The Scottish Government has promised £30 million per year to tackle bed blocking, said Ms Robison.
She added: “One unnecessary delay is one too many and I’ve made clear my ambition and expectation that our new integrated health and social care partnerships will successfully address this.”
NHS Lothian interim chief officer, Jacquie Campbell, apologised for the delays, saying: “We aim to discharge patients as soon as they are well enough, recognising that nobody wants to stay in hospital longer than is necessary.
“We continue to work closely with our four health and social care partners to tackle the issue of delayed discharges, this includes optimising home care and care home provision.”
Rob McCulloch Graham, of Edinburgh Health and Social Care Partnership (EHSCP), said: “Edinburgh hospitals, like many others, have seen a recent increase in the number of patients waiting to be discharged. EHSCP is working hard with home care providers, care homes and hospitals to address these delays. This is a top priority for us all.”