Councils deny ‘bed-blocking’

Alan Foster
Alan Foster

COUNCIL chiefs have denied that social services played a part in “bed-blocking” after an increased demand for hospital beds over the harsh winter.

Up to 16 patients were well enough to leave the University Hospital of Hartlepool and Stockton’s University Hospital of North Tees on a given day in January – but trust bosses claimed there was no one to take the patients home.

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Alan Foster said he has spoken to bosses at local councils to make sure social workers and care homes are available to pick up or accept patients who are ready to leave hospital.

But Hartlepool and Stockton councils deny that “bed-blocking” is down to them.

Stephen Hall, a trust non-executive director and Hartlepool magistrate, told a board of directors’ meeting held at the North Tees site: “I was given some information around possible bed-blocking where staff couldn’t get patients who were well enough repatriated back into social care, as social services were unable to take them.

“I want some reassurance that we are not blocking our own beds because social services are unable to fulfil their role.”

Mr Foster said: “I have raised the issue with local authority chiefs, when I thought more could be done, particularly at Hartlepool, making sure social workers are available on bank holidays.”

But he added that councils “have stepped up to the mark” since then and he was hopeful of better planning and improvements this year.

Trust non-executive director Brian Dinsdale said council budgets were reducing and “if somebody can’t be picked up, it’s a worry”, but acknowledged “there is dialogue going on”.

A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesman said: “We strongly refute any suggestion that ‘bed-blocking’ is occurring due to Hartlepool Council’s social care services not fulfilling their role or not completing timely assessments.

“This has never been the case since the current system of monitoring delayed discharges from hospital was introduced a number of years ago, nor was it an issue over the recent winter months despite the significant pressures experienced by the trust.

“We have a number of services which support people to be discharged from hospital in a timely manner, including transitional care, short-term residential placements and providing equipment and other support.

“We remain committed to working with the trust to help avoid ‘bed-blocking’ and look forward to the trust involving us well in advance in making preparations for dealing with next winter.”

Councillor Jim Beall, Stockton Council’s cabinet member for adult services and health, said no delays had been attributable to the council.

He added that increased pressure within the hospital meant the council and NHS partners identified winter pressures money and additional resources to ensure “timely and appropriate” discharges.

He said extra social workers worked at the hospital on bank holidays over the festive period and in intermediate and support services, and extra beds at Stockton’s Rosedale Care Centre were freed up to take on hospital discharges.