Bed-blockers – What is the solution?

Published: 15 March 2016

NHS ‘bed-blocking’ has been one of the most debated topics in recent months. Bed-blocking is a term used to describe a patient who is ‘medically fit’ but unable to leave acute care. The current crisis stems from a hospital’s lack of ability to discharge patients to a suitable care facility that can support ongoing care needs, ultimately causing delays in discharges. According to The Telegraph, the crisis is expected to cost the NHS £3.3 billion in the next 5 years, with figures rising over a third in just over two years.

Bed-blocking causes disruption to clinical services across hospitals, resulting in longer waits for patients who are in need of beds.  This poses significant risk for patient safety, increased infection and emotional distress as well as increasing waiting times. By addressing the real need to increase community and social care services, could this reduce the backlogs and pressures on A&E?

Whilst bed-blocking is not something that can be rectified with a ‘quick fix’, could care homes provide a temporary solution until a more permanent arrangement can be made? The Think Tank organisation ResPublica, suggested placing patients into care will free up hospital beds, whilst bringing in vital investment into the sector. With the continued cuts to the social care sector would they be able to cope with the increased demand, particularly given the expected rise in the population aged over 85 increasing by 18% by 2020?

The introduction of the Five Year Forward plan aims to tackle part of the problem with the integration of services through the introduction of Vanguard sites. Each site will lead on the development on the delivery of these new models of care which should hopefully inspire the rest of the health and social care sectors. Perhaps the only way to resolve the issue is to collectively take responsibility for the crisis, as we are all users of the NHS, and to ensure that the burden does not solely rely on acute care. But who will take the first step?

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