THE number of patients needlessly taking up hospital beds in Oxfordshire has been slashed by almost 60 per cent year on year, as health bosses desperately try to free up space ahead of the winter.

The problem, known as bed blocking or Delayed Transfer of Care, has had a significant impact on health care in the county in recent years as hospitals struggle to offer up enough beds to meet demand, particularly in the colder months.

The reduction has been called ‘a real good news story’ by the county's health watchdog.

The long-standing issue has contributed to increased pressure on A&E departments, the cancellation of hundreds of non-urgent operations, and resulted in some patients being transferred to community hospitals outside of their local area.

As the NHS and local government continue to wrestle with real-terms funding cuts, patients are often stuck waiting for onward care to be arranged, such as a bed at a community hospital or a home care package, despite being well enough to leave hospital.

However, the county’s two NHS trusts, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, working with Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and Oxfordshire County Council, have introduced a raft of recent changes to combat it.

This includes weekly patient assessments, earlier GP and social worker intervention, as well as increased spending on home care, which together have helped slash the number of beds being unnecessarily occupied by 58 per cent.

According to the latest NHS figures, in June last year the county recorded the second highest number of Delayed Transfer of Care (DToC) cases in the country with 214 beds being occupied by patients who were otherwise healthy enough to be discharged.

However, as of June this year that number now stands at 90 – the lowest it has been in the county for many years.

Executive director at Healthwatch Oxfordshire, Rosalind Pearce, praised the efforts of NHS and social care staff, labelling the figures ‘a real good news story’.

She added: [It] shows what can be achieved when organisations such as the NHS and county council work more closely together.

“Healthwatch Oxfordshire would be interested to know more details of how they have achieved this, so that the lessons learned here can be shared with other parts of the country experiencing similar problems with delayed transfers of care.

“Health and care providers in Oxfordshire should be shouting loud and proud about how they have achieved this. We look forward to the day when no one is stuck in hospital.”

Earlier this year NHS England threatened to reprimand NHS trusts that failed to meet bed blocking targets, as it looks to avoid a similar situation to last winter when thousands of operations were cancelled across the country, including hundreds in Oxfordshire.

The stark fall in bed blocking also comes after the county’s health and social care services were given a dressing down by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in February for failing to work together.

And while health bosses admit the report highlighted the lack of cohesion between services, they insist the collaborative working began before the CQC’s damning assessment.

Speaking about the overall reduction, chief nurse at OUH Sam Foster, said the results were ‘fantastic’.

She said: “By working collaboratively with our healthcare colleagues, we’re able to identify opportunities to make the transition from hospital to home quicker and smoother.

“We’re already working together to plan for this winter and continue to build on our successful measures for making sure people are not in hospital for unnecessarily long amounts of time.”

Chief executive of Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, Lou Patten, added: “There is now a weekly review of all patients who have been in hospital for more than seven days, and we now have a process where their case is reviewed and actions put into place to help get them home and receive community care.

“We are also looking at a number of other innovations that will help strengthen the care provided to people at home to enable them to stay well and in their own homes and prevent admissions as well as enabling patients to return home sooner.”

According to the latest NHS DToC stats released this week, there were 2,710 lost treatment days due to bed blocking in Oxfordshire throughout June.

The most common reasons were:

• Awaiting care package in their own home (1,125 days)

• Awaiting further non-acute NHS care (ie at a community hospital) (476 days)

• Awaiting completion of assessment (372 days)

• Patient or family choice (328 days)

• Awaiting nursing home placement or availability (186 days)