Patient deaths treble as hospital bed blocking soars

The University Hospital of Hartlepool.
The University Hospital of Hartlepool.

The number of patients who died while waiting to be transferred from hospital has trebled.

Figures revealed by North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust showed that last year 17 patients died while experiencing a delayed transfer of care.

These delays are not only distressing for the patients and their families, they can be risky

Nuffield Trust

This was a huge rise on just five patients the year before.

Statistics gained by Freedom of Information requests also showed that the longest a patient had waited to be discharged was a staggering 131 days.

According to NHS England, a delayed transfer of care - often referred to as bed blocking - occurs when an adult hospital patient is ready to go home or move to another type of care facility, but is prevented from doing so.

Delays can occur when patients are being discharged home with a care package or to a supported care facility such as a residential or nursing home, or require further, less intensive care and are awaiting transfer to a community hospital or hospice.

A spokesman for health charity The Nuffield Trust said: “These delays are not only distressing for the patients and their families, they can be risky.

“For older people, staying in a hospital bed for too long can lead to loss of muscle tone and a number of adverse effects.

“For the hospital, high numbers of delayed transfer of care patients have a significant impact on their ability to run smoothly.”

In June it was reported that patients from Hartlepool were using up the equivalent of more than six months of hospital time because of a shortage of care beds in town.

North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust reported a total of 220 extra days spent in hospital – which one director said was mainly due to a lack of places in local care homes.

In January the Mail reported that the number of elderly Hartlepool residents being cared for out of town had rocketed more than ten-fold in just three years.

A shortage of nursing home beds following home closures in town is said to be one of the main reasons for the rise along with difficulty recruiting staff.

In 2013-14, there were just three placements to homes outside Hartlepool of people aged over 65. Last year (2015-16) there were 15, and so far this year there has been 38.

Hartlepool has seen six care homes close across the town since May 2014 including two that provided just nursing care.

Deputy chief executive and chief operating officer for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, Julie Gillon said: “Delayed transfers of care are extremely complex in nature, they involve multiple organisations including the Trust, Local Authorities and the Commissioning Groups.

“Our priority is to ensure that the best interests of the patients, families and/or carers are at the heart of our decision making at all times. We are proactively managing a streamlined service across the acute, community, local authority and commissioning groups to improve the timescale of transfers and prevent duplication in assessment and decision making.

“We have seen a significant improvement in the numbers of delayed transfers of care over the last few months and we will continue to manage developments to see successful changes in the service for our patients.”