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Data reveals scale of ‘bed blocking’ at King's Lynn hospital

On an average day at Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), 18 beds are occupied by patients who no longer need to stay in hospital, according to figures from NHS England.

In May, the latest month for which figures are available, patients at the trust spent a total of 556 days waiting to be discharged or transferred to a different care facility - equivalent to over 18 months of waiting time.

But bosses say they are introducing new systems in a bid to address the problem.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn. (3165161)
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn. (3165161)

The figures show that 95 per cent of delays were caused by problems with the NHS and five per cent by problems with social care.

A ‘delayed transfer of care’ occurs when a patient remains in a bed after being officially declared ready for transfer.

Patients must be safe to transfer and signed off by both a doctor and a multidisciplinary team, which could include social or mental heath care workers, before they are classified in this way.

But independent healthcare charity the King’s Fund has said the sign-off process was sometimes lengthy and there could be many more people who were able to leave hospital but had not been officially declared as ready for transfer.

However, the QEH’s chief operating officer, Jon Wade, yesterday said they are working to tackle the issue.

He said: “We are working with our system partners to reduce the number of our patients who experience delayed transfers of care.

“We are currently piloting an initiative on some of our wards which sees the assessment for discharge brought forward in a patient’scare plan.

“The objective is ultimately to be able to discharge our patients as soon as they are medically fit and for them to then receive any additional rehabilitation and care as required in their home setting.”

Earlier this week, West Norfolk Council chiefs announced it was working with the QEH on a project which aims to reduce discharge delays by referring patients to council housing officials if any issues are identified at the point of admission.

A similar programme at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital halved discharge delays in a 12-week period.

Mr Wade added: “We are also actively encouraging our patients to think about their discharge from hospital upon admission.”

Across England, an average of nearly 4,500 beds a day were blocked in May, representing 3.8 per cent of all occupied beds. The Government target is 3.5 per cent, although the proportion has fallen steadily over the past year.

The figures do not include delays in transferring a patient between wards, or from one acute hospital to another.

Delayed transfers of care can occur for a variety of reasons, including bed shortages at residential or nursing homes and delays in setting up home care packages.

They have the greatest impact on elderly patients. According to the NHS, for a person over 80 a hospital stay of over 10 days can lead to 10 years of muscle ageing.

An NHS spokesperson said: “Patients who are well enough to leave hospital should be able to do so at the earliest opportunity.

“The latest figures show 1,258 more beds were available in May 2018 than in the same month a year ago due to the action taken to reduce delayed transfers of care.”

A report on delivering care for older people released last week by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) highlighted concerns about Government targets for delayed transfers of care.

The report, ‘Beyond Barriers’, cautioned that trusts focusing on trying to hit government targets might end up delivering lower quality care as a result.

A CQC spokesperson said: “As our report highlights, there is too much ineffective coordination of local health and care services - leading to fragmented care for older people.

“Our report recommends a single joint framework for measuring the performance of how agencies collectively deliver improved outcomes for older people.

“This would reflect the contribution of all health and care organisations, rather than relying primarily on information collected by acute hospitals.”

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