An investigation has revealed that the NHS is spending more than £34million a month looking after patients who do not need to be in hospital.
An investigation by Sky News revealed ‘bed blocking’ – the long-term occupation of hospital beds, chiefly by elderly people, due to a shortage of suitable care elsewhere – is bringing the NHS “to its knees”.
Anaylsis of the statistics from the Department of Health show that on one day in September alone, 4,966 patients were unable to be transferred to more suitable parts of the NHS or home and into the care of local authorities.
It reveals that in September alone, 138,068 days of care were lost because of “delayed transfers”.
With a hospital bed in the NHS costing £250 a day, it adds up to more than £34 million.
Over 25 per cent of those delays were said to be due to a lack of social care which has been its funding cut as the coalition government sought to bring government spending under control.
The delay in discharging patients also has a knock on effect on other areas of the NHS, including Accident and Emergency where huge delays are being caused because patients cannot be transferred to other wards, causing further delays in waiting times for A&E patients.
This can eventually lead to ambulances queuing up outside hospitals, unable to discharge their patients into hospital care and causes hold ups in emergency response times.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of the Foundation Trust Network (FTN), which represents hospital bosses, said: “We are going back downhill to 15 years ago, when the NHS was an international joke because you had to wait years for treatment and wait potentially most of a day in an A&E department.”
Dr Susan Robinson, an A&E consultant at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, told the broadcaster, ”If we’re crowded, it’s because the hospital’s crowded, and the hospital’s crowded because they can’t get certain patients out. The crowded hospital is almost bringing us to our knees.”
NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh admitted that bed blocking is a “major issue”
“If you can’t get patients out of hospital back into their own homes, where they’re safe and want to be, then the whole system backs up. You can’t treat people effectively in A&E, then ambulances start to form queues at the front door of the hospital.”
A recent survey by Cambridge University NHS Trust found that 18% of acute adult inpatient beds were occupied by people who had finished their clinical care and could move on.
Social care funding has been cut by almost £3.5bn in a bid by the government to get costs under control.
But there is still a £30bn black hole in the NHS budget set to open up by 2021, the chief of the NHS said.
A Department of Health spokesman said that even though the numbers of bed-blockers has gone up, the rate of delayed discharges as a proportion of hospital admissions has gone down.
“The figures actually show that hospitals are discharging patients more quickly on average than at any time since the NHS started collecting this data,” he said.
But Labour health spokesman Andy Burnham said the figures showed that health care in this country was “going backwards”.
“It is truly sad that record numbers of older people are trapped in hospital when they are well enough to be at home.
“Care is getting worse”, he added.