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Scandal of 6,000 hospital beds filled by patients who weren't sick

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 14/03/2016

More than 6,000 hospital beds were unavailable in the past 18 months - because they were filled with healthy patients with nowhere to go
More than 6,000 hospital beds were unavailable in the past 18 months - because they were filled with healthy patients with nowhere to go

More than 6,000 hospital beds were unavailable in the past 18 months - because they were filled with healthy patients with nowhere to go.

Around 80 people a week were kept on wards longer than medically necessary.

It highlights the growing problem of bed-blocking, where discharge delays add further pressure to our swamped health service.

In an 18-month period from May 2014 to October last year, a total of 6,241 patients waited longer than the target 48 hours to be discharged.

The figures cover only complex cases and do not include so-called simple discharges, where a patient needs minimal after-care.

The details were released by Health Minister Simon Hamilton after an Assembly question from Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen.

Mr Allen, an MLA for East Belfast, said he was shocked by the disclosure. "Other patients who do desperately need medical attention are being blocked by the backlog in the system," he said.

Last month the Belfast Telegraph reported that hospital queues had hit a 15-year high.

More than one in five of the population here is on a form of outpatient waiting list.

Official figures show an increase of nearly 37% in 12 months.

In December 2014 a total of 171,866 people faced a delay - but 12 months later this total had jumped to 236,365.

The number of people waiting more than 18 weeks for a first outpatient appointment has also soared to 122,771.

Mr Allen added: "Delayed discharges are one of the key causes of growing waiting times in our emergency departments - the struggle to find beds for patients who need to be admitted deepens."

Mr Hamilton also revealed that in the same 18-month period, 432 people were relocated to contingency beds in nursing homes because resources were not available to provide necessary care packages at home.

Mr Allen said this was leading to further blocking of the system.

He said he was helping the family of a constituent who is forced to remain in hospital because of difficulties securing a care package. "This patient wants to come home, her family wants her to be comfortable in her own home and yet because of the crippling under-provision of care packages this just isn't a possibility at present," he added.

"The whole purpose of Transforming Your Care was meant to be having the right support in the right place at the right time. As these figures have clearly revealed this isn't what's happening, so I would urge Simon Hamilton to stop trying to pacify himself with further reports and actually get to grips with the growing crisis engulfing our entire health system."

The Belfast Telegraph reported on the problem of bed-blocking in February 2014. Between April 2012 and December 2013, healthy patients spent 29,237 days in hospital beds. In the worst example, a patient was kept in for 635 additional days - almost two years.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The department has set a target for Health and Social Care Trusts that 90% of complex discharges from an acute hospital take place within 48 hours with no complex discharge taking more than seven days.

"The Unscheduled Care Network, jointly led by the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency, is actively investigating possible solutions to improve discharge performance.

"In the meantime Health and Social Care Trusts monitor patient discharges and have local measures in place to mitigate the effects of delayed discharges on hospital services."

Belfast Telegraph

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