Care delays cause 150 hospital 'bed blockers' every day

More than 150 patients who were fit to be discharged have been taking up beds at hospitals in Sunderland and South Tyneside every day in recent weeks, new figures show.

Bed blocking at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Bed blocking at Sunderland Royal Hospital.

NHS England figures show an average of 163 beds a day at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust in October were occupied by people ready to be discharged – up from 144 the month before – because of a shortage of social care.

The Department for Health and Social Care recently announced an additional £500m to combat hospital ‘bed blocking’ – but health experts say this is not sufficient to deal with the problem.

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A joint statement from South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust – which runs Sunderland Royal Hospital – and All Together Better Sunderland, said the figures reflect the “significant and unrelenting pressures” facing the entire health and care system in the area.

It said: “Behind every statistic is a person and a family and we are working hard, across all partner organisations, to make sure people can be discharged from hospital safely as soon as possible once their hospital care is complete.

“We know this will be a further challenge over the winter period and we have already taken action to expand health and social care services in the community so that we can get people back to their home environment at the earliest opportunity.

"This means we will be able to keep vital hospital beds free for patients who are very ill.”

Nationally, the average number of occupied beds has risen consistently since the summer - from 11,590 a day in June to 13,613 last month.

Nationally, just 40% of hospital patients were discharged when they were ready in October.

This was the same in the South Tyneside and Sunderland Trust – down from 47% in September.

David Maguire, senior analyst at the King's Fund health think tank, said the problem is due to post-coronavirus pandemic pressures and stretched social care budgets.

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He said: "This has not crept up on anyone and is a continuation of the pressures we have seen on social care over several years. The sector is hitting a tipping point."

He said social care services have been cut due to reduced funding for local authorities, meaning many patients are waiting in hospitals for adequate care packages to be installed, such as home adaptions, places in care homes or community health support.

In his autumn statement, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced an extra £2.7bn over the next two years would be invested in adult social care services in a bid to reduce bed blocking alongside the £500m discharge fund.

Some £200m of the discharge fund is allocated to local authorities to bolster the social care workforce.

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Care minister Helen Whately said patients are spending too long in hospital due to discharge delays, and that the funding will boost the social care workforce, free up hospital beds, and reduce pressures on the NHS.

She added: "The discharge fund will get more people cared for in the right place at the right time."