Elderly trapped on wards by crisis in care

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More elderly people are needlessly waiting longer in hospital beds for alternative care as swingeing cuts in public spending hit home, a charity has warned.

Age UK said that since June 2010 the NHS has lost almost two million “bed days” from patients who cannot be discharged because they are waiting for social care assessments, a care home place, a home care package or adaptations to be made to their own homes.

The delayed discharges have cost the health service £526 million, the charity said.

It estimates older people are now waiting on average one day longer in hospital before finding a place in a residential care home compared with 2010. Latest figures suggest patients needing to be transferred to a residential home are waiting an average of 30 days.

The charity said that during 2013-14 those who needed adaptations to their own homes, such as grab rails or ramps, waited 27 days before discharge – 11.5 per cent longer than in 2010.

Those needing a social care package before they can go home are waiting nearly 29 days – five per cent longer than 2010.

The charity claims the delays are due to a “crisis” in social care funding which has seen £1.2 billion in cuts since 2010 under the Government’s austerity programme – and which it warns will only worsen in coming years.

Latest figures for Yorkshire suggest discharge delays were about average for England in 2013-14 but there are huge variations. Around 11 people were held up every day due to delays linked to social care for every 100,000 people in York – the second highest behind only Oxfordshire in England – compared with around one patient per 100,000 facing a delay every three days in Barnsley.

Around two thirds of delays for patients leaving hospital are blamed on NHS failings. In 2013-14, the longest hold-ups suffered by patients in the region were in Calderdale, York, Wakefield and Sheffield.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director of Age UK, said: “The marked rise since 2010 in the length of time people are being forced to linger in hospital because of a delayed assessment, care home place, home care package or home adaptation is an outcome of the crisis in social care.

“It is crazy to waste expensive NHS resources in this way, when it would be much more cost-effective and better for older people to fund social care properly instead. Investing in social care would unblock the logjam and help our hospitals to work more efficiently.”

Paul Edmondson-Jones, director of health and wellbeing at York Council, said there had been a “significant reduction” in delayed discharges in recent months.

“We recognised some time ago that we needed to significantly reduce delayed discharges in York,” he said.

“We have been working hard with commissioners and partners to improve all elements of the system and to work towards ensuring only those patients who need acute care are in hospital.”