City hospitals in rude health as bed-blocking eliminated

THERE were no bed-blocking patients in Edinburgh for the first time ever last month, it has emerged. The city council said that no patient waited longer than three days to be released from hospital after their recovery during April.

This signifies a massive improvement from recent times when up to 66 people have been stuck in the city’s wards in any one month unable to go either home or to a care facility for anything from the three-day minimum to several weeks.

It comes after the North Merchiston care home opened, creating more space for elderly patients, while increased investment means more staff have been assigned to dealing with those due to leave hospital.

Health and social care leader Councillor Paul Edie insisted the April figure was not just a chance success and that the measures should ensure the levels remain at zero.

In a further boost, NHS sources said there had not been noticeable changes in the number of people admitted to hospital, meaning the changes introduced seem to be working.

“I am very pleased that the hard work of all the staff involved is paying off,” he said.

“People have told us that they want to return to their homes or communities and now they are with support which assists them and still maintains their independence.

“We are meeting Scottish national targets and we are determined to keep up the good work.”

Bed-blocking – or delayed discharge – occurs when patients, usually elderly, are clinically well enough to leave hospital but have nowhere to go for a variety of reasons.

One key reason is because social work departments haven’t yet completed an assessment of what support the patient will require when they are independent, but a shortage of care home spaces and those waiting for adequate support in their own homes are also prominent reasons.

At NHS Lothian board meetings it has caused tension among members, who believe the health board should not have to pay the price for shortcomings at local authority levels. Unwanted patients not only costs the NHS extra money but mean extra provision has to be made for new patients for whom there is no bed space.

The Lothian region does get hit harder than most given the high number of patients who come from the rest of Scotland to have surgery at the ERI, the Western General and St John’s Hospital in Livingston. In one recent case a patient from the Highlands spent 11 months on a Capital ward because local authorities there couldn’t find a care home space for her.

The Scottish Government brought in the standards at the beginning of last year in attempt to solve the problem, and these have been breached on an almost monthly basis ever since across the Lothians.

In addition to meeting the Holyrood targets, the council has also set its own benchmark that no more than 48 people should be waiting to leave hospital at any one time – even if it is just for a few hours.

Director of health and social care Peter Gabbitas added: “This is a great result for Edinburgh, we have been working hard to drive down our delayed discharge figures. It has been no mean feat but is now paying off to the credit of the staff involved.”