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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 00:27 GMT
Long waits for bed blockers
Lack of alternatives keeps some in hospital
A third of patients whose hospital discharge is delayed take up a hospital bed unnecessarily for more than 28 days, figures show.

Numbers waiting more than 28 days
South East 36.8%
North & Yorks 33.8%
London 33.5%
North West 33.3%
West Mids 33%
South West 31.1%
Eastern 27.8%
Trent 18.8%
The phenomenon of bed blocking occurs when a patient who is well enough to leave hospital is kept in because there are no suitable facilities available to treat them in the community.

This increases pressure on waiting lists as beds are not freed up for new patients.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat spokesman for older people, has published data which underlines just what a significant problem it has become for the NHS.

Mr Burstow's figures show that many people are kept in hospital for more than a month until suitable facilities can be found for them elsewhere.

His figures show:

  • The south-east was the worst hit with 36.8% of those waiting to be discharged from hospital having to wait more than four weeks
  • Trent had the lowest rate, at 20%, waiting more than 28 days
  • 32.7% of all patients experienced delayed discharge within the health service in England
Mr Burstow said: "Any delay in discharging a person from hospital is unacceptable.

"It's a scandal that as many as one in three are left waiting in a hospital environment once their recovery is complete.

New threat

Paul Burstow
Paul Burstow blamed the government
"The present situation simply exposes them to fresh infections and yet further delays.

"This is not bed blocking, it is bed locking, and the knock-on effects of this gridlock have dire implications for the ability of the health service to cope with demand for beds."

Mr Burstow said government policies had exacerbated the situation by driving care homes out of business.

Owners say the fees that they are paid by local authorities to care for people do not adequately cover their costs.

"The naive and short-sighted nature of those decisions have now resulted in a cobbled system where hospital facilities, provided for acute needs, are being blocked by fully recovered people who have nowhere else to go," said Mr Burstow.

Ministers announced in October that local councils were to be given more cash to help reduce the number of elderly patients taking up hospital beds unnecessarily.

Delays 'falling'

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "We agree that it is unacceptable that some people need to wait an excessively long time for discharge from hospital.

"The 90.5m received by councils in November 2001 to tackle delayed discharges means that the length of time people have waited for discharge has dropped - this is good news for patients and their families.

"Councils will also receive a further 200m in April to further tackle delayed discharges during the next financial year.

"The actual number of delayed discharges has also fallen by 10% since September 2001.

"In some cases, where people have very complex needs it can take a significant amount of time to put together a package of care (for example equipment may need to be installed in a person's home) which means a person can safely return home.

"In other cases where an elderly person wishes to choose a care home (where they will live for the rest of their life) it may take time to offer them a choice and for them to make a difficult decision at a stressful time for them and their family."

See also:

01 Sep 01 | Health
The elderly care crisis
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