More than 1,000 Scots patients have died while waiting to be released from hospital since the SNP pledged to end bed blocking, new figures show.
And there are fears the situation will only get worse as councils face swingeing cuts to their social care budgets.
Health Secretary Shona Robison announced in early 2015 that delayed discharge – also known as bed blocking – would be eradicated by the end of that year. But a Freedom of Information response obtained by Labour shows that 1,152 patients have died while waiting to be discharged. The final figure may be higher as NHS Grampian did not respond to the request.
Delayed discharge occurs when patients are clinically ready to leave hospital but are waiting for the necessary care and accommodation arrangements to be made.
Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “In 2015 the SNP promised to scrap delayed discharge in our hospitals. Instead, more than a thousand patients have died in hospital waiting to go home. Our NHS staff are undervalued and overstretched, and they should be supported by a proper system to help patients out of hospital as soon as they are fit to leave.
“Further cuts to local councils which provide social care will only add to this, and it shows the complete mismanagement of our health and care services under the SNP.
“Fixing delayed discharge will begin to relieve the pressure on our hospitals and NHS staff, allowing for better patient care for everyone – but we can only do that if we invest properly in local services. That means doing more than tinkering around the edges on tax, it means real and radical change.”
The Scottish Government has pumped hundreds of millions of pounds into the creation of health and social care partnerships in recent years aimed at fostering a more “joined up” approached between services in order to eliminate problems like bed blocking. But there have been concerns that they have not been working on the ground.
Robison said: “Our policy is clear – when a patient is assessed as requiring care on discharge from hospital, we expect local health and social care partnerships to ensure appropriate support is provided.
“That is why we have invested almost half a billion pounds of additional funds into social care and integration this year, while the health revenue budget will increase by almost £2 billion by 2021.
“Our health and social care delivery plan includes our objective to double palliative and end-of-life provision of care by 2021, so that fewer people die in a hospital setting, as well as reducing the overall bed-day usage.
“We have seen a significant 11 per cent fall in the overall number of people delayed in the last month, and a 10 per cent decrease in the number of extra days spent in hospital, compared with October 2016 – but we want to do more. Boards are working hard to see that continue and ensure no patient has to spend unnecessary, extra time in hospital.”