NHS tackles bed blocking crisis

Bed blocking is a major problem within NHS hospitals across the UK, with thousands of patients sitting in hospital beds facing a ‘delayed discharge’ until the necessary next stage of their care becomes available. A delay may be non-availability of a temporary or permanent space in a residential home, or rehabilitation unit, or a smaller community hospital, or lack of a supportive care package for their return home.

Report: Mark Nicholls

The latest figures from England’s National Health Service (NHS) on Delayed Transfers of Care revealed 159,100 delayed days in January 2016 alone, of which 103,500 were in acute care. This is an increase from January 2015, when there were 150,400 total delayed days, of which 103,200 were in acute care. This was also the second highest number of delayed days reported in a month since monthly data was first collected in August 2010.

Some 61% of all delays in January 2016 were attributable to the NHS, 32.3% attributable to Social Care and the remaining 6.7% attributable to both NHS and Social Care. The main reason for NHS delays was ‘patients awaiting further non-acute NHS care’ while the main reason for Social Care delays was ‘patients awaiting a care package in their own home’.

An independent review by Labour peer Lord Carter found nearly one in 10 beds was taken by someone medically fit to be released and that delays in discharging patients from hospital after treatment could be costing the NHS in England £900 million a year. His report described the issue as a ‘major problem’ causing operations to be cancelled and resulting in the NHS paying private hospitals to see patients.

Critics say the lack of social care in the community is a key reason why people cannot be discharged from hospital and the latest figures come at a time when spending on social care in the UK has fallen £4.6 billion over the last five years.

Vicky McDermott is chief executive of Papworth Trust, a charity for disabled and older people, which has opened a £2 million residential scheme designed to ease the growing bed-blocking crisis in hospitals.

However, one health charity in the east of England – working with NHS partners - has taken steps to offset this blockage in the system. The Papworth Trust, a charity for disabled and older people, has opened a £2 million residential scheme designed to ease the growing bed-blocking crisis in hospitals across the surrounding area. This consists of 28 purpose-built, self-contained flats that will bridge the gap between a hospital stay and discharge by replicating a resident’s home, providing each patient with more than four hours of social care and one-and-a-half hours of occupational therapy daily.

The accommodation, to be known as MacFarlane Grieve House, will help residents regain practical skills, confidence and independence, while also providing short-term care 24-hours a day. The new rehabilitation service is run on behalf of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Cambridgeshire County Council and Uniting Care, with nursing services provided by the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust.

Papworth Trust hopes that the NHS and charities working closer together will introduce the rehabilitation model across the country. Papworth Trust chief executive Vicky McDermott said: ‘MacFarlane Grieve House is a radical new approach to rehabilitation that will save the NHS money, reduce the likelihood of a patient re-presenting at hospital and provides a model that can be rolled out nationally. ‘One of the biggest challenges in our current healthcare system is people returning to A&E after they have been discharged from hospital without appropriate rehabilitation. This is expensive for the NHS and detrimental to the health of every individual who is left vulnerable after acute care. We believe our rehabilitation model will allow hospitals to discharge patients into our care, happy in the knowledge that they will receive first-class social care and occupational therapy that will enable them to return home and go about day-to-day tasks with improved mobility. This will also mean that hospitals can discharge patients quicker, which will free up more beds.’


Read all latest stories

Related articles


Coronavirus chronology

COVID-19 in the U.S.: Government inaction gave virus a head start

The sense of fear is palpable in the images and videos of hospital intensive care units (ICUs) and emergency departments that are broadcast on television and posted on social media. Fear and…


Structural adjustments

More competition among health insurers or among hospitals?

Temperatures rose significantly when a press release arrived at the Bundeskartellamt, Germany’s competition authority. ‘Does the Bundeskartell­amt obstruct useful structural adjustments in the…


Drones or data cables?

Are humans too slow for digitalisation?

Today the impressive development of drones by some people is happily regarded as the pinnacle of digitalisation in healthcare. Some groups are testing whether drones can quickly and safely deliver…