Bed-blocking is, without doubt, a serious problem. It’s a problem for the NHS and the people it could otherwise treat if the beds were free; it’s a problem for those left languishing and, sometimes, dying in a hospital bed when they could be at home; and it’s a problem for local councils that are struggling to put together appropriate care packages that would allow stranded patients to leave.
According to figures obtained by the Scottish Labour party under Freedom of Information law, it has cost the NHS more than £360 million in the three years since Health Secretary Shona Robison stressed that she was “absolutely determined” to “eradicate bed-blocking” within a year.
So, it’s pretty clear she recognises that there is a problem – and yet has failed to deal with it.
In her response to the figures compiled by Labour, Ms Robison pointed to a decline in the number of ‘bed days’ lost because of delays of just three per cent in 2015/16 compared to the year before. That’s a quite a climbdown from her aspiration in February 2015 for a 100 per cent reduction over the next 12 months, even if that was an almost ridiculously over-optimistic ambition.
She also sought to shift the blame to councils saying that the Scottish Government “expect local health and social care partnerships to ensure appropriate support is provided”. These would be the same councils whose budgets have been cut to the bone by the SNP.
Now, the SNP didn’t create bed blocking and it is something that happens in many other parts of the UK. It’s a bit of a thorny old complaint that never seems to go away. However, it seems as though it has slipped down the agenda of the Scottish Government.
And that’s where the rest of us come in. Because if bed blocking starts to get “traction” with the electorate, opposition politicians will pile in and the SNP could then find itself with little option but to move it up the list of priorities. That’s democracy in action. But if voters greet today’s news with a shrug of the shoulders, the situation is likely to remain much the same. And that would be a shame because, as Labour’s Anas Sarwar pointed out, that £360m could be used to help treat patients and ease the broader financial problems of the NHS. So let’s make bed blocking an over-riding political problem for Shona Robison and, who knows, it might just get fixed.