Hundreds of patients a week are stuck in Lancashire hospitals – even though they are well enough to be discharged – at a time when bosses are having to put on extra beds to cope with huge demand.
Every week more than 700 days are lost across the county because beds are being taken up by patients waiting to be sent home – who neither need nor want to be in hospital.
And the number has risen in the past 12 months as a lack of Government funding for social care, which is run by councils, has been blamed for the delays, which can then lead to further delays for patients waiting to be admitted.
It comes after The Post revealed hospitals in Preston and Chorley have been running at close to full capacity in recent weeks due to ‘rising demand’.
Despite a steady rise in council spending on adult social care, which stands at more than £400m a year across Lancashire, more than two fifths of the delays - known as delayed transfers of care - are down to patients waiting for a place in a residential or nursing home or for a care package to enable them to go home safely.
And the Alzheimer’s Society has said around a quarter of those forced to wait will suffer from dementia.
Deborah Parker, operations manager at the charity’s Lancashire branch, said: “With such scarce social care funding, wards are being turned into waiting rooms, and safety is being jeopardised.
“From the woman who spent two months on a bed in a corridor because there were no available care home places, to the man who died after months of waiting left him debilitated by hospital-acquired infections, people with dementia are repeatedly falling victim to a system that cannot meet their needs.
“One million people will have dementia by 2021, yet local authorities’ social care budgets are woefully inadequate, and no new money has been promised in the budget to cope with increasing demand.”
In Preston, Chorley and South Ribble, 26,350 days were lost to delayed transfers of care between October 2016 and September this year – a rise of 10,106 compared to the previous 12 months.
And almost half of those were due to a wait for care arrangements to be made. Days lost waiting for nursing or residential home placements or a care package in the patient’s home more than doubled from 6,075 to 12,517.
Meanwhile, the latest data from NHS England shows health chiefs put on an average of 20 extra beds a day at the hospitals throughout December to cope with the extreme pressure, which saw the number of admitted patients exceed the number of ‘core’ beds the hospitals have on at least 10 days.
Karen Partington, chief executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals and chairman of the A&E delivery board in central Lancashire, said: “It’s important that people are discharged promptly from hospital when they no longer need specialist care, as delays affect the ability to admit patients for urgent treatment or planned operations.
“All health and social care organisations in our area are working closely together to help ensure that discharges are timely and appropriate, which will ultimately give patients a better experience of care.
“Within the hospitals, the SAFER tool is being implemented which is designed to identify and prevent any potential delays in every patient’s care and treatment programme.
“The team that supports patients and families to make suitable arrangements for ongoing health and care needs following a hospital stay has recently been expanded, so that people can be discharged swiftly and safely when their treatment concludes.”
The A&E delivery board is made up of representatives from NHS Chorley and South Ribble CCG, NHS Greater Preston CCG, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, Lancashire County Council, North West Ambulance Service, gtd healthcare, NHS England and NHS Improvement.
Cost of care
How much does Lancashire County Council spend on social care?
Is social care to blame?
A recent report by Healthwatch said councils have 48 hours from being told that a patient is ready to be discharged to make arrangements, or the delay is blamed on social care.
It added: “Over the last three years the number of delayed transfers attributed to social care has increased by 130 per cent. This compares with a 25 per cent increase in the number of delays caused by the NHS.
“As a result pressure is being placed on councils to do more to increase capacity in social care and help get patients out of hospital.”
But it warned to much focus on people in hospital, at the expense of those in need of social care would be ‘short sighted’.The report added: “To ensure the system as a whole invests in
social care in the right way, it is vital that councils develop a better understanding of local demand.”
‘We are doing everything we can’
Coun Graham Gooch, Lancashire County Council’s cabinet member for adult services, said: “Our social work teams in hospitals work very closely with NHS colleagues to identify and assess people who may need support on discharge.
“Support we offer could include reablement, to help people to live independently at home, or arranging home care, low level support through our hospital after-care service or a nursing or residential home placement.
“Through the improved Better Care Fund and adult services budget, we’ve invested in extra measures to ease the pressure on the system. These will help us manage demands over the winter period.
“These include additional social workers to undertake assessments, commissioning extra home care support and working with Age UK to provide increased after-care services to those who need less intensive support.
“We’ve also commissioned extra crisis support services to ensure more people have access to urgent social care at home. This helps with timely discharge from hospital and preventing hospital admissions.
“We’re working together to monitor our progress to ensure we continue to do everything possible to support people to return home in a timely way.”
Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “Clearing hospital beds is an absolute priority and it is nonsensical to keep people in hospital when it is not a necessity.
“Our fantastic consultants, clinicians, doctors and nurses are treating more people than ever before - we need to ensure they can move patients along to the next stage of treatment or care at the first available opportunity.
“That is better for the patient, better for hospital staff, and better for new patients who need urgent treatment.
“I am more than happy to meet with health and social care leaders to see where the problems in the hand overs are arising.