Bed blocking crisis may see patients sent to other areas

8:30am Friday 31st January 2014

By Oliver Evans

PATIENTS may be sent to community hospitals outside of their local area, after officials admitted bed blocking has created a crisis in Oxfordshire’s healthcare.

Twenty per cent of people in beds in major acute hospitals like Oxford’s John Radcliffe are there because they want to go to their local community hospital but there is no space.

But officials now say they may have to go elsewhere as they aim to tackle a problem that has persisted for months in the county.

Latest figures, for January 5, show 150 were blocked – higher than the figures in the 140s that officials had been struggling since June to bring down.

Ian Wilson, interim chief executive of the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), told the Oxford Mail the move was needed “with the sort of crisis that we have and the need for acute beds”.

He said: “It is a long-term thing about the distribution of the community beds across the county.”

He said it would not be fixed soon.

A CCG report on the issue spells out the need to take action, saying: “With the pressure on A&E this winter, beds are urgently required in the acute hospitals and unreasonable delays of this type are not sustainable.

“A media campaign has been instigated which will explain that people do not have a right to choose their community hospital and to explain the impact that this has on preventing beds being used in acute hospitals for patients with more urgent needs.”

Bed blocking occurs when a patient – often a frail OAP – is well enough to leave major acute hospitals, but community services such as community hospitals are not available, and this has a knock-on-effect on acute waiting times in, for example, in A&E.

County MPs will today meet health and council managers in Oxford to discuss the issue after demanding a meeting.

But bosses hope the latest move will ensure that community hospital beds – in places such as Abingdon, Bicester, Chipping Norton, Didcot – are used as much as possible.

Mr Wilson yesterday told board members at a meeting in Oxford that patients may have to “accept temporary placement that in terms of geography, and not in terms of care, is less than ideal”.

He said 60 different initiatives are under way to tackle the issue, including new hospital discharge teams, and that £240,000 had been given by Oxfordshire County Council to train staff and for three new occupational therapists.

Lay member Ros Avery said of the figures: “Despite everything we’ve done this year, we are still worse than we were this time last year.”

Mr Wilson added that the £10.2m spent to ease winter pressures on the county’s health service had helped stop the issue getting much worse, but that this would be “small comfort to the families and patients waiting in hospital”.

Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry said the issue “has to be gripped and sorted”. He added: “It would be sensible if we looked at those areas of the country which appear to have the best performance.”

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “It’s of critical importance to the NHS that this delayed discharges crisis is properly addressed, and the whole situation underlines how crucial it is to get more and better community support in place whether in community hospitals or in peoples’ own homes.”

But he added: “I think careful explanation of the situation to a patient and family is more likely to be helpful than simply saying ‘you have no right to choose where you go’.”

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