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14.01.15

Rate of ‘bed blocking’ in NHS almost doubles

The rate of ‘bed blocking’ in the NHS has reached crisis levels in the past six months, with the number of unnecessarily occupied beds doubling, according to new figures. 

Charity Age UK has revealed that more than 1.9 million bed days were lost to the NHS in the four years to June 2014 – equivalent to 482,000 bed days per year. 

However, in the period June to November 2014 alone, this figure rose by more than 400,000 – almost one year’s worth in just six months. 

The phenomenon known as bed blocking usually occurs when medically fit patients cannot be discharged from hospital because a package of care has not yet been organised for them. It has been estimated that it has cost the NHS in excess of £640m in the last four years, but this does not include the cost of any food or treatments for patients. 

Some people dislike the term ‘bed blocking’, saying it blames the patients, rather than a broken system. 

Discussing its findings, Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “It is crazy to waste expensive NHS resources in this way, when it would be much more cost effective and better for older people to fund social care properly instead. 

“Waiting in hospital a month or more for social care to be organised can also undermine an older person’s chances of recovery and be profoundly upsetting for them and their families too. 

“Investing in social care would unblock the log jam and help our hospitals to work more efficiently. A properly resourced care system would transform many older people's lives for the better and would make financial sense as well.”

NHE has asked NHS England for a comment on the bed blocking figures, but did not receive one. 

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said his members state regularly that delayed discharges are a very significant problem and a major contributor to current performance difficulties in accident and emergency services. 

“You get what you pay for, and you cannot reduce social care funding without significantly increasing risk for the NHS, however hard local authorities work,” he added. 

“The government has to properly fund both the NHS and social care to deal with rapidly rising levels of demand as the population lives longer and with increasing numbers of older patients with complex multiple conditions.” 

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