Bed-blocking led to more than 3,000 days of wasted care in a single month at Sheffield’s adult hospitals, figures have revealed.
The statistics show that patients were stuck on wards for the equivalent of 3,018 days because of ‘delayed transfers of care’ – where people are fit to leave but cannot do so, limiting new admissions – in May, the third-highest rate in the country.
Most of the people affected were either waiting for a care package to be arranged in their own home, or for an assessment to be completed.
Nearly 60 per cent of the delays were down to the NHS internally, while 34 per cent were attributable to social care, according to NHS England, with the blame shared in the remaining cases.
At the last count the problem was affecting nearly 100 beds a day in Sheffield, and had worsened from the month before, with the number of delayed discharges rising by more than five per cent.
However, May’s figure was significantly lower than the 4,650 days lost to bed-blocking in March, and health and social care bosses are intensifying efforts to tackle the issue in the city.
The council is spending £6 million of Government money on reducing delays to ease pressure on the NHS, and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals recently called in management consultants Newton Europe in a bid to cut bed-blocking to zero.
John Campbell, branch secretary for the Unison trade union at the Northern General Hospital in Fir Vale, said cuts to funding were key to understanding the ‘significant problem’.
“The elderly and most vulnerable patients well enough to be discharged are frequently unable to do so,” he said.
“Some have been admitted from care homes who cannot take them back because they cannot meet their needs. Others who live alone and are not able to look after themselves without help have to remain in hospital until a care package is put in place, which can in some cases take a considerable amount of time.”
He added: “We believe that hospital admissions could be avoided for many patients who only require community support for everyday issues, but this government’s cuts in resources – particularly affecting local authorities and health – have been brutal and has seen many care and residential homes close which has reduced the number of respite beds available.
“This problem not only puts additional pressure on the bed spaces available, but adds to the work already being undertaken by the overworked doctors, nurses and healthcare workers, not to mention the additional administration work this generates.”
Kirsten Major, deputy chief executive at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said the situation had improved since ‘the peak of demand’ last winter, and that the trust was already planning ahead for the colder months.
“Over recent months Sheffield Council and NHS Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group have been working in partnership with us and a number of things have been put in place which are having an impact,” said Ms Major.
“For example, the number of care home providers has been increased along with the number of care packages for people needing support in their own home. We have also looked to see where we can make improvements to ensure patients are in the best possible position to transfer to the next part of their care.
“This work is continuing over the coming months as part of our overall planning for winter.”
Mr Campbell added: “We would all like to be treating more patients, and we would all like to see patients discharged with appropriate care packages back into the community, but until this Government recognises that you cannot keep stripping away resources, you cannot keep stripping away funding and expect a first-class health service.”
Sheffield was third only to University Hospital Southampton and Oxford University Hospitals in May’s figures, which are the most recent available. Oxford had the highest number of delays, with 4,550 days of care wasted.
Bed-blocking in NHS hospitals has risen by more than half nationally over the past three years, and was projected to cost the NHS £169 million directly in 2016-17.
Total delayed transfers of care in May: 3,018
Awaiting care package in own home: 956
Completion of assessment: 926
Awaiting nursing home placement or availability: 395
Waiting for further NHS non-acute care: 305
Awaiting equipment and adaptations: 202
Waiting for residential home placement or availability: 150
Patient or family choice: 21