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GMB issues warning about bed-blocking

GMB, the union for health and care workers, has welcomed the Care Quality Commission’s annual report confirming that government cuts to social care have caused record levels of bed-blocking and struggling A&E units across England.

Bed -locking has been on the rise for a number of years. New GMB analysis of bed-blocking figures released for the period between 2010/11 and 2015/16 shows that the number of days lost to bed-blocking has increased by over 40% during the five period to a total of 602,431 days.

The North West of England has seen an increase of over 100% – a total of 145,054 days –while the South West and East of England saw increases of 58% and 63% respectively. The North East of England was the only region to see a decrease in the number of days lost to bed blocking over the period.

A Respublica report in March showed that hospitals are under increasing strain in terms of capacity and finance predicting the NHS will waste £3.3 billion by 2020/21 caring for patients who no longer need medical treatment.

Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary, says: "This report confirms what GMB has been saying for two years - underfunding and cuts to social care are directly responsible for bed-blocking. The avoidable, unnecessary strain on NHS hospitals is sweeping the length and breadth of the country. Failure by government to adequately fund community care, the support older people need in their own homes or care homes is a badge of national shame and frankly a stupid waste of taxpayer money.

"As GMB has warned again and again, failing to adequately fund social care places a millstone round the neck of the NHS. Sadly that is exactly what is happening now as care beds are lost and the NHS is forced to step in as the lender of last resort. It is quite simply penny wise and pound foolish.

"The Government must act now if it is to diffuse this ticking time bomb and give our older people and vulnerable people the care and the dignity they deserve."

In a recent briefing document, the Nuffield Trust has also focused on the problem and recommended that NHS Trusts need to rethink how they manage patient flow. ‘Understanding Patient Flow in Hospitals’ analyses how bed use and patient flow change through the day and uses Hospital Episode Statistics which track admissions and discharges. It highlights that bed occupancy does not peak at midnight, yet that is when the official census of patients is carried out. Nuffield Trust recommends an investment in IT and management systems that can track the flow patients and the need for beds in real time.

The problem of bed-blocking is a significant contributor to delays in patient admittance through A&E, which has a knock-on effect causing many Trusts to fail to meet the four-hour target.