Leader comment: Ministers have failed to end bed-blocking log jam

Nearly 700 patients died in hospital despite being declared well enough to be cared for elsewhere. Picture: Getty Images
Nearly 700 patients died in hospital despite being declared well enough to be cared for elsewhere. Picture: Getty Images
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Patients ending their days in hospital despite being declared fit to be cared for elsewhere is a personal tragedy for those involved and a crushing irony for their loved ones.

Dignity in the final period of our lives should be a right afforded to all Scots.

The Scottish Government has rightly declared as one of its key targets ending the ignominious practice of delayed discharge, or bed blocking.

However, figures obtained by Labour and published today suggest ministers still have a long way still to go.

An extra £100 million to tackle the problem was announced by the SNP almost exactly two years ago.

Health secretary Shona Robison described it back then as an “absolute key priority” and said the additional funding as part of a the three-year programme was “crucial to this effort”.

But with two-thirds of that money now spent, the latest statistics make grim reading.

Between March 2015 and last September, 683 people who were well enough to be cared for at home or in a home died before leaving hospital.

Labour fears the total may be even higher because some health boards have been unable to provide complete figures in response to a freedom of information request.

In addition, a census last October showed the number of patients waiting to be discharged had increased in a month by more than 50 to 1,576, who spent nearly 44,000 unnecessary extra days in hospital that month alone.

We should be on guard when any party seizes on figures in an attempt to make political capital, especially on such an emotional subject as the NHS.

There is always the suspicion that their presentation has been moulded to cast them in the worst light, while ignoring the bigger picture or wider factors.

Having said that, the Scottish Government appears to have failed to get close to solving a problem it has singled out as being so important.

Ministers have also given the impression of trying to distract attention from the scale of the challenge with announcements such as one last September which trumpeted that Scotland was “leading the way” in developing the most accurate information about delayed discharge.

In reality, the outlook is bleak, given the dire predictions from local authorities over where the budget cuts will take them, and the likely impact on the care services they provide.

It would seem unlikely that things are going to get better on that front.

But bed blocking is not just expensive in terms of the cost to the health service.

It also puts huge pressure on the rest of the system, denying other people from getting in to hospital for treatment.

There has to be a full debate about the kind of health service that people want to pay for, but it would seem obvious that more money must be found to create a care service that is fit for purpose.