The example given in this newspaper today of bed-blocking – a patient who was well enough to be discharged still spent two years in an acute hospital ward – is an extreme one, but it does highlight a problem which impacts throughout the health service here.
Delayed discharges throughout Northern Ireland have meant patients spending an unnecessary 30,000 days in hospital.
While that is an unacceptable statistic in itself, it is but a symptom of the general malaise in the system. When acute hospital beds are being occupied unnecessarily it means that people on the waiting list for an operation or treatment are having that delayed because the hospital cannot admit them. It also leads to increased pressure on an already over-strained accident and emergency service in hospitals. Where do doctors put those people who urgently need treatment?
What it also points up is that the infrastructure for care in the community is not sufficiently robust to cater for the number of people who need it. So instead of being released from hospital, patients are being kept in wards until a suitable care package is put in place in the community.
Quite simply, the proposed transformation of care programme so positively promoted by the Health Minister Edwin Poots is not working properly. The model may look good on paper, but implementing it and resourcing it properly has still a long way to go.
We are told by the minister that the deaths of five people at the Royal Victoria Hospital, possibly because of delays in their care, should not be regarded as a crisis. We beg to differ.
There have been damning reports on the resources and staffing levels in accident and emergency care and six consultants at the hospital are planning to leave because of intolerable workloads. There is an impression of knee-jerk proposals to tackle the problems, instead of systematic planning aimed at providing a joined-up service.
Mr Poots, if you cannot see the crisis in the health service, then you are the only one. You need to show leadership rather than trying to defend the indefensible.