At least 300 Scots waiting to be discharged to spend their final days at home, instead died stuck in hospital last year, it has emerged.
The stark impact of “bed blocking” has been set out in new figures today which indicate the problem is worst in the Lothians where more than 100 people passed away while waiting for care arrangements to be put in place. The true number of such deaths in Scotland could be higher, as several health boards only provided data for part of 2018. There are now calls for greater action to recruit more social care staff after the problem of bed blocking involving mainly older patients soared again in Scots hospitals.
“Hundreds of people are prevented each year from spending their final days surrounded by their loved ones in their own home,” Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said. “Often the delays are directly linked to social care services not being in place for people who should be returning home. These delays can unnecessarily put people at risk of acquiring infections in hospital.
“Worryingly, the problems in social care will only be made worse by £230 million worth of real-terms cuts to local government in the SNP-Green budget.”
NHS Lothian had the highest death rate with 104, followed by Lanarkshire on 56, the Greater Glasgow and Clyde on 35. There were no figures over the year for Tayside.
Bed blocking, also known as delayed discharge, happens when patients have to stay in hospital despite being medically fit to leave because they are waiting for a care package. It cost the health service in Scotland more than £120m last year.
The problem is getting worse, with 43,732 bed days lost to it in December – a 2 per cent increase on December 2017. Labour uncovered the latest figures on death rates using Freedom of Information legislation.
Ms Lennon insisted the party would ensure social care gets the staff and funding needed to address the issue.
She added: “In government we would introduce a National Care Workers Guarantee with a commitment to secure hours, a living wage and reimbursement for travel and training time.
“We are serious about protecting our NHS and delivering the real change that our communities need.”
More than half of Scots say the Scottish Government is not doing enough to address issues such as bed blocking and other problems like A&E waits, according to a poll on attitudes to the NHS conducted by Censuswide Scotland.
The SNP government had pledged to abolish bed blocking in Scotland after coming to power in 2007.
But since that time the problem has cost an estimated £500m in lost hospital bed days.
Brian Sloan, chief executive of the charity Age Scotland, said action was needed to improve the recruitment and retention of care staff.
He said: “It’s incredibly sad to hear about so many older people dying unnecessarily in hospital while they are waiting to be discharged and returned to their home. It’s important that older people and their families are afforded the choice about their end-of-life wishes.
“There are far too many older people stuck in hospital for longer than they need to and it is a problem that doesn’t appear to diminishing.
“It’s bad for a person’s health and costs the health service an eye-watering amount of money which would be better spent in delivering social care.
“The longer an older person is in hospital, the harder it can be to leave as muscle mass reduces and frailty increases, making the risk of a fall more likely.
“In turn this could result in a return to hospital. I have personally heard from older people who are scared to ever go to hospital for fear of never leaving.”
He added: “We know there are simple and cost-effective solutions to getting people out of hospital and back into their own home, such as Care and Repair services.
“They are able to fit key safes for carers and family members, small adaptations such as a grab rail and ramps, and make sure the home is safe for the return from hospital. But fundamentally we’ve got to address the problems in recruitment and retention of social care staff, so that the necessary care package is deliverable once an older person is ready to leave hospital.”