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18.10.17

LGA: Four million lost bed days shows social care reform must come sooner

The LGA says a new report on delayed transfers of care (DTOCs) show that the government must allocate more funds to social care services in the Autumn Budget.

An Age UK study found that almost four million bed days have been lost since 2011 due to problems putting patients into community care once they have received hospital treatment, with the number still on the rise.

The largest increase was between 2015-16 and 2016-17 when a 27% increase was recorded in the number of beds being taken by people who could be moved to other arrangements.

In fact, in the last year more than 950,000 days were lost, which has an estimated cost to the system of £173m.

The LGA disputed the cause of delays, asserting that nearly 60% of all delayed transfers are down to patients waiting for NHS services or assessments rather than places in care homes.

“Councils are doing all they can to try and help people live independently in their communities and reduce demand on hospitals, said Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board.

“But with unprecedented funding cuts since 2010 and social care services facing a £2.3bn funding gap by 2020, this is becoming increasingly difficult. That is why the need for the government to use the Autumn Budget to reform and fully fund social care is urgent.

“The extra money for social care announced in the Spring Budget was a step in the right direction, but this was one-off funding and not a long-term solution.”

The comments follow recent claims by councils that social care funding is nearing a “perfect storm” of issues which threatens the future of services.

The State of Care Report showed that 19% of the UKs adult social care practices were listed as ‘requires improvement’. The revelation prompted the LGA to point out a lack of government spending in the sector.

Seccombe added: “The recent threats by the government and NHS England to withhold or direct how councils spend this money is not the way to solve the social care crisis. We need to work together to make sure we make the best use of our scarce resources, social care services and care workers.

“It is vital they work with councils to prevent people ending up in hospital in the first place and helping those unfortunate to be stuck unnecessarily in a hospital bed get out quickly and safely, back into the community and close to their loved ones.”

Impact on the elderly

One factor mentioned in Age UK’s report was the prevalence of older people staying within the community rather than in specialised homes. Since 2011-12 the number of ageing patients stuck in hospitals has more than doubled.

The study suggests that the problem has a specific impact on older people because of the changes in post-hospital care and says the issue puts patients at risk of psychological stress, infections and loss of mobility.

“These delayed discharge figures show the disastrous impact of our failing social care system on the NHS, as well as on older people themselves,” commented Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK.

“Increasing numbers are being marooned in their hospital beds, losing muscle tone and risking infection when they are medically fit enough to leave, often because of acute shortages of social care, especially of the home visiting kind.

“There is no doubt that some older people’s chances of a good recovery are being totally undermined as a result.”

The report claims that this issue is causing an enormous strain on the NHS. It argues that a typical bed day costs £2,089 and £2,532 a week, compared to an average of £519 for a place in residential care.

“To add insult to injury, this ridiculous and sometimes tragic situation cost the tax payer over £173m last year alone, money that would have been much better spent giving older people the social care they need,” Abrahams continued.

“This is why the government must stand by its pledge to bring forward proposals soon for putting social care on a sustainable footing.

“In the medium and longer term we need new mechanisms so people can pool their risk of developing care needs, but with winter approaching the immediate imperative is an injection of resources into social care and fresh efforts to tackle the galloping delayed discharge crisis that is threatening to engulf our hospitals.”

Bed blocking is an increasing issue within hospitals, and with winter approaching, health organisations such as NHS England have called on the government to urgently deal with the problem.

In addition, the King’s Fund recently warned that the continuing decrease in available beds was “unrealistic”, citing the halving of beds in the last 30 years.

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