Bed blocking is costing Tunbridge Wells Hospital more than £100,000 a week, based on figures released by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells (MTW) NHS Trust.
In November, six per cent of patients in the two hospitals run by the trust, one in Pembury, the other in Maidstone, were ‘delayed in their transfer of care’.
This equates to a daily average of 26 beds at Pembury being taken up by people who are healthy enough to go home or can be moved along to a less acute stage of care, such as Tonbridge Cottage Hospital or care homes.
An average bed in Pembury hospital costs £600 per day to maintain which means up to £15,600 a day is being spent on providing bed space for those who do not need the medical care. This is £109,200 a week, or £5,694,000 a year.
And the number of blocked beds has been gradually rising. In October 2014, it was 20 beds, in October this year it was 34. This means, within two years, the problem is costing the Trust an additional £58,000 per week.
As well as the financial burden, bed blocking puts pressure on the hospital to find space for incoming patients at a time of year when winter ailments increase the demand for care.
The chief executive of NHS Improvement, Jim Mackey, has warned hospitals of the ‘unprecedented demand’ facing hospital this winter.
“Given the level of risk facing the system, it is clear that having sufficient bed capacity going into Christmas is critical,” he wrote.
Tunbridge Wells, along with all hospitals, has been told it must get capacity down to 85 per cent this week.
For MTW Trust, Lynn Gray, said: “Patients with delayed transfers of care are a challenge faced by the majority of acute trusts in the country. However, it is vital that the right care and support is in place for them when they leave hospital.
“If it isn’t in place, they cannot be discharged. The safety of our patients is an absolute priority.”
Often, the beds are blocked by elderly and vulnerable people who want to live independently but are delayed, as aspects of their homes may no longer be suitable for their needs, if they have suffered an injury or they are unable to access necessary services.
To try and address this issue, a Housing and Health Co-ordinator along with handyman, David Walker, have been based at the hospital in Pembury since November to assist people. The scheme is a joint effort by the local authorities of Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge & Malling and Sevenoaks.
Cllr Lynne Weatherly, Cabinet member for Communities and Wellbeing, said she has already ‘received very positive feedback’ about the £61,000 scheme.
“Many patients don’t want to be in hospital and want to return to their own home so if this initiative helps them that is a good thing as well as saving the NHS money.”
The borough council told of one lady who had benefitted from the scheme. She was in hospital following a fall at home where she had been lying on the floor for some days before police forced entry and found her. When she was due to go home, the service arranged to fit a key safe at the property so carers were able to access her home.
Her return was jeopardised again because she had no food at home and was not strong enough to get any herself. The service ordered an online shop for her which the handyman was able to deliver and unpack.
It is hoped that the low-cost programme could make an impact on the number of beds blocked.