Shortage of hospital beds ‘putting lives of patients at serious risk’

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon is seeking an urgent report (PA)
Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon is seeking an urgent report (PA)
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PATIENTS are being put at risk in Scotland by a lack of consultants and a shortage of acute hospital beds, a leading doctors’ organisation has revealed.

New data from the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE) has highlighted how a growing number of patients are being forced to stay in wards not designed to cater for their illness, a practice known as “bed- boarding”.

Doctors say this delays treatment and increases the time patients stay in hospital, making them more likely to contract a superbug, like MRSA, or suffer from blood clots.

The study also highlights how the number of consultants working in wards has remained the same despite a continued increase in the number of people treated in acute hospital units.

Eight out of ten physicians questioned for the survey say bed-boarding takes place year-round, and every expert said the practice had a negative impact on the quality of care patients receive.

Seven out of ten RCPE members say putting patients in inappropriate wards has a negative impact on death rates and that it increases the chances of a patient being readmitted to hospital due to them not getting the correct care during their initial stay.

Dr Neil Dewhurst, president of the RCPE, accused the Scottish Government of reducing the number of beds in acute hospital units.

He said boarding was becoming the norm.. “We believe this is poor practice, places patients at risk and is unacceptable.”

In most hospitals across Scotland, he said, consultants have told how they increasingly had no alternative but to move patients to other wards where they receive less specialised care

The report also revealed that 71 per cent of RCPE members believed bed-boarding levels were “high and increasing” and that it was putting many medical students off becoming hospital doctors.

Figures show the average number of available staffed beds in acute specialities was recorded as 16,701 in the year ending March 2011 and was 17,092 in the year ending March 2010. In 2002, there were 18,029 available staffed beds in Scotland.

Doctors have also raised concerns at the number of patients being treated outwith hospitals, usually in the community, which they say is not always the most appropriate place for them.

The professional organisation will today write to MSPs to call for a multi-agency taskforce to look into bed-boarding and treatments in the community in relation to patient safety.

The RCPE also told how a previous study showed that 74 per cent of doctors would refuse to be a medical boarder themselves and 92 per cent would not accept it for a relative.

Patient groups welcomed the findings and joined calls for more research into the effect of bed-boarding on patient care.

Dr Jean Turner, executive director of the Scotland Patients’ Association, said: “We are extremely concerned, yet not surprised, at the RCPE findings. Over the past 20 years the unintended consequences of reducing NHS beds throughout Scotland has contributed to patients being processed from bed to bed within wards and between numerous wards before discharge.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw MSP described the findings as “deeply concerning”. He said: “This report is a further but urgent wake-up call, not for a future generation of policymakers and health professionals but for the current Scottish Government and today’s NHS.”