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The ‘bed-blocking’ scandal exposed

The Scottish government has been costing the taxpayer millions of pounds while misleading families about the reason their loved ones were stuck in hospital, writes NEIL FINDLAY MSP

I BELIEVE that the last few days have exposed a real scandal in healthcare. 

Through the work of investigative journalists, it has emerged that in March, 1,000 people were discharged from hospitals untested into either care homes or their own or family home with a home-care package.

“Bed-blocking” or “delayed discharge” occurs when no care-home place or package of care at home is available. 

It has been a permanent and stubborn problem for the last 15 years or more. 

Successive governments have failed in their attempts to address it. Thousands and thousands of patients have spent up to a year or more in hospital because of this, with their families being told that they must stay there because “no care package is available.”

Just prior to the Covid-19 crisis, Scotland’s hospitals were experiencing record delayed discharge rates, so where did all the extra social-care capacity suddenly appear from in March?

Did we overnight see hundreds of new bedrooms built in care homes or hundreds of new care workers recruited and trained for home care in just a few days?

Of course not. So how was this capacity created?

Well, according to Cabinet Secretary for Health Jeane Freeman, this was largely achieved through “improved digital technology,” changed procedures and “best practice.”

Are we really to believe that years of “delayed discharge” in the NHS was eradicated overnight by two computers taking to each other and some procedural tweaks? This really does insult our intelligence. 

The reality is somewhat different and exposes a real scandal.

The simple fact is that these care-home places and home-care packages did exist. 

They were able to be commissioned and filled quickly because of one major change — money became available to purchase them. 

So rather than places not existing, they simply were not funded. And they weren’t funded because councils that jointly fund the integrated joint boards have had their budgets savaged year on year on year by the SNP government imposing disproportionate cuts.

So all the time when your mum or dad or granny or grandad has been stuck in hospital “waiting on a care package,” as they and their families have been told, the places were in fact there all along. What a disgrace this is.

But it gets worse. A care-home place in, say, Inverclyde is now funded at around £713 per week by the government from March. 

In other areas, this will be around £1,000, but it costs between £300 and £400 a night to keep someone in hospital. 

This means that in seeking to starve Scotland’s councils, the Scottish government has been costing the taxpayer millions of pounds, while misleading families about the reason their loved ones were stuck in hospital.

And there’s more — it’s because of people being left for weeks and months in hospital when they could be home that others have been left in pain and discomfort languishing on growing waiting lists for operations and procedures.

This is a very real and tragic scandal and those who have been involved in it must be called to account.

Neil Findlay is Labour MSP for the Lothian region.

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