Return of bed-blocking sparks outcry from opposition MSPs

A political row erupted last night as bed blocking returned to the north and north-east. The number of patients still in hospital six weeks after being ready for discharge increased from zero in April to 12 at the time of the July census.

Figures released by NHS statisticians show NHS Highland had nine patients outwith the six-week period, NHS Grampian two and NHS Western Isles one.

NHS Forth Valley was also in the same category with five patients still in hospital after six weeks.

Bed blocking, known as “delayed discharges”, occurs when patients are clinically well enough to leave hospital but are prevented from doing so for various reasons, such as a lack of funding or other necessary care not being ready.

Across Scotland 62 patients were delayed from discharge for more than six weeks, up from 55 in July 2009. Five health boards had zero delays outwith the six-week period, including Orkney, Shetland and Tayside.

Liberal Democrat public health spokesman Jamie Stone said it was “disappointing and potentially dangerous” that some patients had to wait longer for a bed because others had yet to be discharged.

He said: “Patients are often delayed because the resources are not available to take them in community facilities. The health secretary needs to better integrate hospitals and community health facilities to speed up the transfer of patients and cut delays.”

The total number of delayed discharges, including those outwith the six-week period, was 708 across Scotland, up from 579 in April and 634 in July 2009.

Labour public health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson said: “Not only has bed blocking grown since the last census, but the number of patients delayed for over six weeks has increased on the same time last year.

“It is clear that Health Minister Shona Robison has failed to take control of the problem.”

The zero target for those in hospital for six weeks was first achieved in April 2009. Since then some health boards have failed to keep up at different times.

Ms Robison said the fact that five areas achieved zero delays was testimony to the hard work of health and social care staff.

“It is important that local authorities and health boards work together to ensure patients do not have to stay in hospital when treatment is complete,” she said.

“The zero standard that was achieved last April should be sustained at all times for the benefit of patients.

“We hope to return to that position soon.”

An NHS Grampian spokesman said: “The number of delayed discharges remains low.

“NHS Grampian had two patients waiting longer than the six weeks discharge planning period when the census took place in July. They were awaiting a place in a care home.

“We are working very closely with council colleagues and every effort is being made to ensure patients are discharged appropriately.”

NHS Highland community care director Jan Baird said: “We should maintain the zero standard at all times and that is why we, with our partners in the council, make the issue of delayed discharge one of our top priorities.

“We are working closely with them on how community care services can be transformed to ensure that people get the support they need to live as independently as possible, which is what service users say they want.”