Enough patients to fill four wards are causing a “bed-blocking” log-jam in Preston and Chorley hospitals.
Shock figures obtained by the Post show that between 60 and 80 mainly elderly people, who no longer need full-time medical treatment, are unable to be discharged, mainly due to a lack of care services outside hospital.
Their continued presence is having a serious knock-on effect on new admissions, A&E waiting times, elective operations and ambulance hand-overs.
“When we only have 700 beds in total, that’s a lot to be taken out of circulation,” said one health worker.
“But it’s not the patients’ fault. A lot of the time there is nowhere else for them to go.”
Local hospital boss Karen Partington revealed the full extent of the area’s beds crisis when she briefed the Lancashire Health and Wellbeing Board in Chorley.
We are working with local health and social care organisations to develop new ways of providing services in the community, so that people can be discharged from hospital promptly and get the support they need in the most appropriate setting.
Later she told us: “At times around 60 patients a day aren’t able to leave hospital because the health and care support they need in the community isn’t available.
“As a result our hospitals are extremely busy. This can mean planned procedures have to be postponed and there are delays admitting patients from the emergency department to our wards.”
The figures illustrate a national problem which is being described as the worst beds crisis the NHS has ever known.
And with local authorities like Lancashire County Council finding it almost impossible to adequately fund adult social care because of huge budget cuts imposed by central government, many fear the situation can only get worse.
“It’s a horrible phrase, bed-blocking,” said Mike Wedgeworth, chairman of Healthwatch Lancashire.
“But there are 200,000 beds nationwide which are blocked by people who could move out because they are medically fit.
“But there’s nowhere for them to go. And that is a 70 per cent rise since 2012.”
According to the latest figures, Preston and Chorley are amongst scores of hospitals across the UK suffering from a bed bottleneck.
Many of the patients stuck in wards could move out, either to a care home or their own home, but are prevented from doing so by the crisis in adult social care.
Their presence in hospital beds costs the health service around £300 a day each, or £2,100 a week.
The total weekly bill for looking after 60 to 80 people amounts to between £120,000 and £168,000.
If those patients could be transferred to £800-a-week care homes, the savings would be huge.
“The increasing delays in discharging people from hospital is a national issue,” said Karen Partington, chief executive of the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
“We are working with local health and social care organisations to develop new ways of providing services in the community, so that people can be discharged from hospital promptly and get the support they need in the most appropriate setting.”
Mike Wedgeworth added: “It’s a really massive problem this and unfortunately the local authorities which pay for social care have had their budgets cut hugely, so they can’t make the provision which is desperately needed.
“The boss of the NHS recently said that if he had more money he would put it, not into hospitals, but into social care.”