Despite the Scottish Government’s previous efforts, bed blocking is still a major problem.
It is a problem that costs the NHS a small fortune. It causes distress to vulnerable people and delays the treatment of others who are ill. And it has been doing this year after year after year.
Bed-blocking, or ‘delayed discharge’, appears to be the problem that our politicians simply do not care enough about to fix – even though it is so bad that last year at least 300 Scots died in hospital when they could have been at home, surrounded by family and friends.
Scottish Labour, which obtained the figures under freedom of information law, said that the delays in discharging patients were often “directly linked” to the lack of a home care package – and that this situation was likely to get worse because of cuts to council budgets.
Given bed-blocking cost the NHS in Scotland more than £120 million last year, this seems to make little sense in purely financial terms.
But, as Brian Sloan, the chief executive of Age Scotland, pointed out, this is about more than money. It was, he said, “incredibly sad to hear about so many older people dying unnecessarily in hospital” while waiting to go home. He revealed he had even spoken to older people who were “scared to ever go to hospital for fear of never leaving”.
An opinion poll published at the weekend by our sister paper, Scotland on Sunday, found that 52.5 per cent believed the Scottish Government was not doing enough to address issues such as bed-blocking and waiting times in Accident & Emergency. And the figure rose to 63.7 per cent for those aged 55 and over.
Nicola Sturgeon’s administration has made much of using the money raised from ‘tartan tax’ increases to provide more funds for the NHS.
But if the NHS is being let down by inadequate provision of social care then some of this extra funding will be wasted and would have been better spent elsewhere. There is little point in creating new beds for more patients if they are only going to be filled by people who should not be in hospital and, even worse, do not want to be there.
The plight of 300 people left to die in hospital when they could do so at home is perhaps the most emotive sign of the problem, but its scale is quite staggering with 43,732 bed days lost to it in December alone – up by two per cent on December 2017. The Scottish Government can no longer delay action on delayed discharge. It costs money, causes unnecessary suffering and is, quite simply, heartless.