Concern as 'bed blocking' is among worst in the country
Cambridgeshire County Council is preparing for a review into health services as the scale of so-called 'bed blocking' in the county's hospitals is revealed.
Delayed transfer of care, more commonly known as bed blocking, occurs when a patient is occupying a hospital bed after they have been identified as fit and safe to be discharged.
The resulting loss of capacity has a knock-on effect on hospital waiting times and the number of beds available for other patients. In March, the ambulances were diverted from A&E at Addenbrooke’s Hospital due to excessive demand.
A report published last week said the county was among the worst performing authorities nationally. On Tuesday (April 24) Cambridgeshire County Council’s health and wellbeing board heard that improving the situation was a priority.
Updated figures show Cambridgeshire has improved since the report was published last week, but is still only in the second worst quartile in the country.
Figures published by the council this week show the authority has moved up to 94th place out of 152 local authorities for their response to delayed transfers of care. This compares to the ranking of 131st out of 152 which they were given in February. Despite the improvements, there were calls for more to be done to improve the situation.
The board heard that bed blocking was a symptom of deeper problems in the health system such as issues recruiting and retaining staff (particularly from the EU), and problems finding home care for patients to be transferred into after they are ready to be discharged from hospital.
Charlotte Black, service director for adults and safeguarding at the county council, said: “This is a system issue. We are responsible for these people. A huge amount of work is going in to addressing this, and it is a high priority on everyone’s agenda.”
She added that there should be a focus on helping people to lead healthier lives and to avoid having to be admitted to hospital in the first place.
“I think there is a risk we think too much about how we get people out of hospital quickly whereas we should be thinking about how to stop people going into hospital in the first place.
“‘Admission avoidance’ is the wrong term to use, but it is about looking at what we can do to help people avoid having to go into hospital,” she said.
Cllr Susan Van de Ven, who sits on the health and wellbeing board, said: “It is obvious people are working hard everywhere to firefight this.”
Cambridgeshire is likely to be included in an upcoming round of Care Quality Commission (CQC) reviews into health services, to be announced in May. The board agreed to note the report and prepare for a possible review.
Cllr Van de Ven asked whether, if a CQC review of the system were to take place, it would help highlight local issues such as problems with recruitment and the high cost of accommodation for staff, which she said were putting people off and compounding the situation.
Cllr Sue Ellington wanted assurance that, should there be a CQC review, the board would not spend too many valuable resources responding, detracting from their ability to improve the situation on the ground.
Cllr Peter Topping said a review from the CQC could help to improve services, but he said the board should not lose sight of how bed blocking affected the individuals, particularly the elderly, who relied on the service.
“The report doesn’t really make any reference to the impact on people,” he said.
“Do we understand the impact of delayed transfers of care on people, particularly on the elderly, as well as the requirement of just hitting the numbers?”
The committee heard that delayed transfers of care had a profound effect, and that people deteriorate “mentally and physically” the longer they stay in hospital.
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