By Debbie le Quesne

£820 million a year – the shocking price of bed-blocking

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Management of the discharging older patients from hospital does not represent value for money, according to a report by the National Audit Office.

In a recent report, the spending watchdog estimates the gross annual cost to the NHS of treating older patients in hospital who no longer need to receive acute clinical care is in the region of £820 million. What!

In turn, the delays rack up extra pressure on the financial sustainability of our NHS and local government. Frankly, few boroughs I visit have got cash to invest in social care, but to fix this problem the Government must find some ‘wriggle room’.

Longer stays in hospital, as we know, can have a negative impact on older patients’ health as they quickly lose mobility and the ability to do everyday tasks.

The report echoes findings of the Alzheimer’s Society Fix Dementia Care: Hospitals campaign, which zooms in on poor care for people with dementia in hospitals and poor practice in the discharging of patients.

George McNamara, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Society, has been very vocal about the poor discharge processes.

Data suggest that bed-blocking has risen by a third in two years.

Not wishing to say ‘we told you so’, West Midlands Care Association was forecasting this problem six years ago.

Interesting isn’t it, that according to the Alzheimer’s people with dementia occupy a quarter of hospital beds.

I have heard of cases where residential homes have been expected to take in discharged patients beyond teatime, where pick-ups have been delayed because of hospital pharmacy backlogs and, not least, because funding for care packages has not come through.

I can actually recall cases where dementia homes have been expected to take admissions beyond 10pm.

It seems to me we are focusing on the end problem rather than the cause. Support in the community and good lines of communication between care homes and hospitals will naturally allow patients to be discharged in the knowledge that they will receive the necessary level of care.

I regularly travel to other parts of the country – some local authorities are better placed than we are in the Midlands – but there is a recurring parallel. Poorer areas, much like those in the West Midlands, get a poor deal. There simply is not the wealth sleeve to support privately funded care packages in many of our industrial towns.

Our older people deserve better; our care providers deserve better; and for me and countless other too, it unacceptable that there appears to be a deliberate tactic of inertia from Government funding pools.

The Fix Dementia Care campaign is worthy of our support, but so too are those who continue to fight for real funding help as Government ministers look on and play politics. Are they representing us and the people for whom we care? I’m sure they’d all say “yes . . but . . .”

Poor discharge processes can have devastating, life-changing consequences for people with dementia and those who are frail. Whatever happened to the bright horizon of a health and social care system with joined-up thinking?

Preventative measures need to be in place. Sadly every last one of these initiatives will cost money. Seems to me it’s a ‘given’ that £820 million year would be a good wedge of funding to make it happen. How stupid of me: Guess it must be the collateral damage cost for stringently enforcing austerity measures.


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