BED blocking in West Berkshire is an “increasing challenge” as patients are spending hundreds of days ready to leave hospital, while facing delays in transferring to community care.

Last summer more than 500 days went by with patients stranded in hospital when they could have been discharged.

The needs of patients have become more complex and care homes have “consistently delayed” visiting hospitals to assess patients, according to a new council report.

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The NHS measures bed blocking by the total number of bed days taken up by patients who are ready to be discharged home, or to care homes or hospices, but who stay in hospital due to delays. 

In West Berkshire, the number of days was above target last summer, according to Catalin Bogos, performance and risk manager at West Berkshire Council.

Between July and September last year, patients spent 561 days in hospital in the district when they could have been discharged. The target for that quarter was 492.

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In a report to the health and wellbeing board meeting on January 30, Mr Bogos said: “Levels of demand for support with hospital discharges has remained consistently high.

“Through 2019, there has been an increasing challenge in finding domiciliary care and this has led to heavy reliance on our own in house reablement service and the Berkshire Healthcare Foundation Trust Carewatch [which cares for people in their own home].”

Delayed transfers can cause “considerable distress and unnecessarily long stays in hospital for patients”, according to the King’s Fund, a health think tank. They also affect waiting times by reducing the number of available beds for other patients.

Mr Bogos said: “In December 2019, private agencies were reluctant to take on any new care packages over the two-week Christmas period, and the only discharges were with reablement.

“There have also been consistent delays in care homes visiting hospitals to carry out assessments, which were counted as a social care delay by hospitals.”

The needs of patients have become more complex, according to the report. One person was “difficult to place” because they were obese, and another patient involved a lengthy court case.

According to the King’s Fund: “Longer stays in hospital are associated with increased risk of infection, low mood and reduced motivation, which can affect a patient’s health after they’ve been discharged and increase their chances of readmission to hospital.” 

Bed blocking costs the NHS “a staggering £550 per minute”, according to campaign group End Bed Blocking, who also say NHS figures on the number of delayed transfer days are “severely underestimated”.