Delayed discharge from hospital has cost Scotland’s NHS more than £360 million since the Scottish Government pledged to abolish it three years ago, analysis claims.
The cost of patients lying in hospital beds even though they are ready to go home was revealed in research carried out by the Scottish Labour Party.
Delayed discharge – or bed blocking – typically occurs when a social care package is not in place to enable a patient to move out of hospital.
The problem not only affects patients who end up stuck in hospital but affects others who require treatment because it takes up valuable bed space. The Scottish Government has vowed to tackle delayed discharge and around three years ago health secretary Shona Robison said she wanted to get rid of it entirely.
In an interview with the BBC in February 2015, the health secretary said she was “absolutely determined” to “eradicate” delayed discharge.
Labour used figures from the NHS’s Information Services Division (ISD) to calculate the cost of bed-blocking since then.
According to ISD, between March 2015 and January 2018 there were 1,557,781 bed days occupied by delayed discharge.
The latest figure by ISD for the estimated average daily cost of a delayed discharge was £223.
When the two figures were combined to calculate the overall cost the total came to almost £363m.
Scottish Labour blamed Scottish Government mismanagement of the health service for the failure to tackle bed blocking.
Richard Leonard’s party also pointed to £1.5 billion worth of cuts since 2011 suffered by local authorities who provide care packages.
Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “Despite the SNP health secretary’s promises, her failure to get a grip of delayed discharge has cost our health service more than £360m.
“That is a staggering figure that could have been reinvested in our NHS to deliver better patient care and staff support.
“Much of the delay in discharging patients is due to social care issues and delays in care assessments – the result of years of an SNP government slashing local authority budgets, with £1.5bn cut since 2011.
“Labour’s alternative would end the cuts to our councils and deliver a national guarantee for care workers.
“This would ensure all care workers are given appropriate training, paid the living wage, including the time and cost for travel.
“That’s the kind of radical change our health and care services need.”
The severity of the problems caused by delayed discharge has been underlined by previous statistics which revealed more than 1,000 patients had died in hospital while on delayed discharge waiting lists since Ms Robison’s pledge.
Earlier this year it was disclosed at least 1,152 patients died between March 2015 and November 2017. The figure was obtained via Freedom of Information requests made to Scottish health boards.
At the time it was noted that the figure could be higher because NHS Grampian did not respond to the request for information.
Last night Ms Robison said: “Scottish Government policy is clear – when a patient is assessed as requiring care and support on discharge from hospital we expect local health and social care partnerships to ensure appropriate support is provided.
“Figures published last year show that the number of bed days lost to delay in 2015-16 was down 3 per cent on the previous year, building on the 9 per cent reduction in 2014-15. Bed days associated with delay have been under the level of the previous year for 35 of the last 36 months, going back to February 2015.
“We continue to support health and social care partnerships to reduce delays, investing almost half a billion pounds of additional funds into social care and integration this year, while the health revenue budget will also increase by almost £2bn by 2021.”