According to the latest figures released by the NHS, the problem of so-called ‘bedblocking’ has grown worse over the last six months.
Bedblocking refers to the long-term occupation of hospital beds, often by elderly people, due to a shortage of suitable care elsewhere.
Indeed, figures from the report indicate that nearly half of all delays can be attributed to the elderly.
Reports suggest that delayed discharge from hospital, fuelled by the lack of beds for patients needing social care, is costing the NHS more than £300m annually.
In August of this year alone, the equivalent of over 93,000 hospital bed days were lost due to delayed discharge.
To put this into perspective, this figure has increased by over two-thirds over the last five years.
These latest figures could be considered a disastrous indication of the current position of the NHS considering that the health organisation has amassed debts of nearly £1 billion over the last three months according to recent financial accounting.
And NHS regulator Monitor has already warned that the health service will ultimately accrue a £2 billion deficit by the end of the existing fiscal year.
Over the past year alone there has been more than one-million delayed days, costing the NHS in the region of £305 million.
Yet despite the pressure on hospitals, evidence also suggest that over half of all new requests for home care support are ultimately denied.
It is almost inevitable under the circumstances that these troubling figures would become a political football, and indeed the two main political parties disagreed strongly on the subject.
Heidi Alexander, the Shadow Health Secretary, was predictably domain on the Tory responsibility for their existing situation.
“These appalling figures show the scale of the crisis in older people’s care under the Tories. Increasing numbers of frail, elderly people are reaching crisis point, ending up in A&E and then getting stuck in hospital. This could be avoided if they had the right care and support at home. Instead, the Government has cut social care budgets, which is bad for older people and bad for the NHS too. At a time when the NHS is facing a financial crisis, it is wasting over £300m a year on delayed discharges. This cannot go on,” Alexander asserted.
But responding to the comments of the Shadow Health Secretary, a government spokesman pointed out that the Conservative party has made major commitments toward further NHS funding
“Labour have no plan to give the NHS the funding it needs. We are putting £10bn extra in to create a seven-day service and get people out of hospital more quickly.” In total, there were 1,116,661 acute delayed days – or delayed discharge from hospital days – in the 12 months to August 2015. Last year there were 873,415 days lost due to bedblocking, suggesting the problem is worsening,” the spokesman stated.
It is perhaps worth pointing out with regard to these claims that the NHS already has an admitted budget deficit of £30 billion, and thus the extra funding will only cover one-third of this likely optimistic estimate.
Meanwhile, in a recent Conservative party conference speech, David Cameron once again emphasised his intention to make the NHS available to all patients seven days a week.
While there has been scepticism about this plan in some quarters, further question marks must surely be attached to this plan in the light of recent figures.