Sarah Boyack: Care services are key to solving NHS beds crisis

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The next few years will see huge changes with more of us living longer and living on our own. So making sure we have high quality health and social care is ­rising up the ­political agenda.

Last week Alex Neill, Cabinet Secretary for Health announced that we’ll need to keep the numbers of beds we have in the NHS to cope with the growing numbers of elderly people requiring treatment in our hospitals. But here in Lothian our health board is planning to close ­facilities and reduce the numbers of beds available.

I therefore took the opportunity to ask Mr Neil in the Scottish Parliament what new resources he’d be making available for local authorities to provide the new care facilities we need. Unfortunately I didn’t get a reply.

We need to know whether the Scottish Government has approved NHS Lothian’s plans to reduce the number of beds available for patient care given the huge pressures currently being experienced on readmissions and the number of older people ready to leave hospital, but stuck waiting for a care package to be put in place.

I would support the health board’s ambition of modernising facilities, but we need a joined-up approach to ensure that planning for care for our older people puts in place solutions to the shortages which currently exist.

The reopening of the Royal ­Victoria shows the problem of short-term ­decision making.

NHS Lothian is facing well-­documented capacity issues with the recent audit of the ERI finding that the ­hospital was at 101 per cent capacity with more than one in five patients hit by delayed discharge. Above 85 per cent capacity levels the risks of ­hospital acquired infections increases.

We also know that Lothian has the highest number of standard bed days lost to delayed discharges. So the issue goes to the heart of the problem of older people stuck in hospital who are medically ready to leave but there’s no care plan for them lined up.

This week I asked the health ­minister what resources the Scottish Government is providing to enable local authorities to deliver on the new target that no patient should wait more than four weeks before they are ­discharged.

The target is due to kick in this month, but it is a challenging one to meet given that the NHS did not manage the current six-week target in 15 out of the last 20 quarters.

Councillor Cammy Day, Edinburgh’s vice convener for health and social care tells me that we need six additional care homes in Edinburgh.

Given the huge pressures on ­council finance this will clearly be a major challenge. So we need a joined-up commitment between the Scottish Government, our local councils and the health board.

The long-standing squeeze on ­funding for NHS Lothian and the reduction in funding for our councils makes the development of new care services a major challenge.

But it’s a challenge that has to be met.

Sarah Boyack is Labour MSP for the Lothians