Bed-blocking at the N&N on course for record high
- Credit: Evening News © 2009
Record numbers of patients are stuck in the region's biggest hospital despite being ready to leave – as managers roll out new schemes to meet winter demand.
An analysis by this newspaper has found a 56pc rise in bed-days wasted monthly over the last five years at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) – putting a strain on its services. N&N chiefs have drawn up a string of measures to combat the problem, and have had some success since April.
But the hospital remains on course to record its biggest number of delayed patient discharges this year, while the doctors' union warns the NHS faces its toughest winter yet.
Emma McKay, the N&N's director of nursing, said: 'Reducing the number of days patients spend in hospital involves the whole health system and we are working closely with our partner organisations to ensure that patients receive the appropriate care for their needs.'
Delayed discharges (also known as bed-blocking) occur when inpatients are medically fit for discharge but support for them through social care – in their homes or in a care home – is not in place.
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Social care in this region is provided by local authorities such as Norfolk and Suffolk county councils.
Therefore hospitals are sometimes unable, through no fault of their own, to discharge patients safely.
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Our analysis of the figures, from NHS England, presents a mixed picture for Norfolk's hospitals.
In the first seven months of this financial year (April-October) the N&N has reduced its number of bed-days wasted from 2,416 (April) to 999 (October).
It is not yet known if the closure of the Henderson Unit and temporary closure of two wards has affected the N&N, as those figures will be published later.
But by looking at the monthly average of the N&N's figures this year so far, compared to previous years, the N&N is still set for record high amounts of delayed discharges by the next March (the end of the 2016/17 financial year).
However Ms McKay said a number of measures have helped over the last 12 months.
These include a senior matron to lead the discharge service, expanding the discharge team, setting up discharge co-ordinators on wards, and 'strengthen multi-disciplinary links with health and social care partners'.
'Improvements in patient flow have enabled us to utilise bed capacity more effectively,' Ms McKay said.
She said a 6,000 increase in emergency admissions between 2014/15 and 2015/16 had impacted on the volume of delayed discharges.
'Our approach to winter planning is to have year-round resilience which ensures the continuity of our services and the best possible care for our patients,' she said.
Meanwhile, the James Paget Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has reduced its delayed discharges substantially in the last three years, and rates have remained consistent at Queen Elizabeth Hospital King's Lynn.
Andrew Fox, associate chief operating officer at James Paget Hospital, said: 'There are a number of staff groups from all disciplines and organisations currently working together to continue and build on the progress we've already made.'
The monthly average of wasted bed-days this year at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds is 655.
The public are reminded that hospitals' A&E departments should only be used for emergencies. Other options to access treatment include using pharmacists, going to a walk-in centre, or calling non-emergency helpline 111.