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Don't blame patients for the bed crisis


Official stats out this morning show a significant rise in the number of ‘delayed transfers’ of people between hospitals, care homes and community services.

In October the number of cases increased by 19 per cent to 4,936 compared to 4,147 last October. Whilst there was a slight reduction compared to last month’s figures (4,966) this is still with the context of an annual increase of 10 per cent between the 12 months to Oct 2013 and the same period to Oct 2014.

There is a worrying trend across the NHS that is seeing patients being blamed for this and the resulting pressure on the number of available beds.

Last week’s move by the Royal Bournemouth Hospital suggesting patients and their families be fined for supposedly refusing to agree to be discharged is just the latest example.

As part of its ongoing inquiry into ‘unsafe discharge’, we have received reports from over 100 local Healthwatch raising important questions around the discharge process including:

  • Healthwatch Dorset’s report on the Royal Bournemouth Hospital (PDF) showed that patients often felt rushed and forced to be discharged before they were ready - directly contradicting the examples offered by the hospital.
  • In North London we heard about a man whose house was broken into by squatters whilst he was in hospital. The police were contacted but they said they couldn’t do anything to remove them and yet the hospital discharged him without a safe home to go to because he was ‘bed blocking’.
  • In Greater Manchester one local Healthwatch shared the story of one patient who had been sent home from hospital after a hip operation before a care package because they needed the bed. However, it then took four more days for the correct care to be put in place.

We have also received emotive stories directly from the public including a woman who said her mother was in tears after being told she was ‘bed blocking’ – she died shortly after, freeing up the bed but having been made to feel like burden in her last days.

Our Chair, Anna Bradley said:

“It’s time to ban the term ‘bed blocker’ from the NHS vocabulary and end this nonsense idea that patients are to blame.

“This is a problem that the system needs to work out itself, and the idea of fining patients is disgraceful.

“The key to solving the issue can be found in better communication between all those involved in our care, in particular around discharge planning.

“From the moment we are admitted the doctors, nurses and care services all need to start planning for how and when we are going to leave hospital, to ensure the transfer is safe and that the right care package is in place to give us the best chance of recovery.”

For further information please contact Jacob Lant, Media Manager for Healthwatch England on 07972 148 245 / Jacob.lant@healthwatch.co.uk