Delayed discharge of patients from Scotland’s hospitals seems to be the problem that our politicians find impossible to solve.
For years, people who have been well enough to go home – but cannot because of a lack of social care – have been forced to remain on the wards, taking up beds that could be used by others, making over-long waiting lists even longer. Worse still, some have died while existing in this unnecessary state of limbo.
According to new figures from Age Scotland, a shocking total of nearly 500 people died in Scotland’s hospitals in 2018/19 while waiting to be discharged.
Of the 474 deaths, 89 per cent were patients who needed a health-and-social-care package to be arranged to enable them to go home. Most of them were elderly people who would have much rather have died in their own home, rather than the impersonal, rather sterile, surroundings of a hospital bed.
Brian Sloan, of Age Scotland, described their fate as “tragic”. While stressing the delays had not directly caused the deaths, he added that long stays in hospital increased the risk of an infection, loss of mobility, and feelings of loneliness and isolation. He highlighted the situation in Edinburgh and the Lothians, where patients face waits of up to 35 weeks to get the care packages they need, saying this was “unacceptable”.
Politicians’ priorities are strongly influenced by their impression of the mood of the public.
Given how long this problem has blighted the final days of hundreds of our most vulnerable citizens, MSPs don’t seem to have been getting the message that this lamentable state of affairs cannot and must not continue. So everyone who believes this needs to make clear that it is a big issue.
The SNP can probably rely on the votes of the most passionate supporters of independence, while parties with a strong Leave or Remain stance on Brexit will attract support for those reasons.
The problem with such constitutional debates – as important as they are – is that they are overshadowing bread-and-butter issues that have a real impact on people’s everyday lives.
If we allow this to continue, our democracy will gradually be degraded because it will become a less effective way to make life better for its citizens. We need politicians with the wisdom to see this.