Labour peer Lord Carter says that NHS England could save £900 million per year if people were discharged quickly from hospitals after being judged medically fit to leave.
Bed-blocking, as the problem has been called, is being blamed in part on cuts to social care funding that mean frail people have nowhere safe to be sent after hospital treatment.
Hospitals cannot release vulnerable patients if there is no care home or community care solution in place for them.
Lord Carter’s report estimates that up to 8500 beds are being blocked.
Care home industry association Care England agrees that cuts to local authority funding is contributing to the problem.
“Lord Carter’s report on NHS efficiency shows that nearly one in 10 beds in the NHS is taken by someone medically fit to be discharged. As Unison and others have rightly said, cuts to social care of 31% have meant the unavailability of social care for hospital-leavers, which causes unnecessary delays for patients and hampers health service productivity. Independent social care providers are part of the solution to NHS efficiency, but delayed discharges will continue while social care remains badly underfunded,” said Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England.
Closer cooperation between the NHS and care providers would go a long way to alleviating the problem, Professor Green says. “Lord Carter has urged acute trusts to engage in different options for post-operative patients: the social care sector is ready and willing to deliver high-quality re-enablement services that will prove effective for citizens and efficient for the taxpayer. Pockets of innovative working exist, but the Government must conclude from Lord Carter’s report that hospitals should work closely with social care providers, and that adequate social care funding underpins NHS efficiency,” he adds.
In an interview with Care Home Professional this month, Professor Green suggests that the Department of Health and the NHS fail to engage constructively with the care industry. “For example, we find ourselves at the moment with the NHS saying it is facing a winter pressure crisis, but it refuses to engage with the independent care sector. We have been speaking to the Department of Health year after year about how we can help, and get no response.
“They see themselves as the only show in town, and they are not,” Professor Green concludes.