empty hospital bed

"Bed-Blocking" is a phrase that means a patient is ready to be discharged from hospital but is still occupying a bed that they no longer need. 

The term is somewhat derogatory as it blames the patient, rather than on the failings of the adult social care system that is in place. These "bed-blockers" are usually elderly or vulnerable who rely on local authorities and social services to organise the next level of their care. Remaining in hospital longer than necessary can be very detrimental to an out-patients recovery, putting them at risk of infections such as MRSA.

Focus instead, should be shifted onto the shortcomings of social care providers and local authorities, rather than the powerless patients.

89-year-old Iris Sibley was trapped in on a ward in a Bristol hospital for six months due to her local healthcare provider was unable to find a suitable nursing home[1].

Delayed discharges have not only resulted in waiting times in England increasing[2] but are also costing the NHS up to £3 billion per year.

These prolonged discharges are prompting an increase of patients in A and E departments, who must wait longer for treatment due to fewer beds being available.

Furthermore, the NHS is experiencing a higher demand for accessible healthcare, but with less resources available. In 2001, there were 11 million hospital admissions. A decade later, this number has risen to 15 million[3]. Despite the rise in admittances, a quarter of hospital beds have been removed in the last 10 years.

It has also been found that 64% of healthcare providers struggle to meet the government target of seeing 94% of patients within 4 hours[4]. What heightens this issue is that nearly 100,00 NHS roles are currently unfilled in England. This includes a demand for 40,000 nurses and almost 10,000 doctors[5].

Local councils are responsible for arranging home visits or stays in care homes for patients who are ready to be discharged.

However, most local authorities have experienced cuts to their budget and as a result, have had to reduce the amount of money spent on social care- as well as other sectors. This creates a dilemma: budget cuts are reducing local councils' ability to meet government targets and reduce bed blocking. These spending cuts only diminish the services delivered by adult social care even further.

The UK government has emphasised that delays in delivering sufficient social care are improving. In April 2019, there were 130,800 delays, a significant 10% reduction when compared to the previous Aprils’ estimate of 145,300 delays[6].

Additionally, the spend on healthcare is 12 times more than the original budget 70 years ago[7]. A 5-year funding plan is currently in place, with intentions for the healthcare budget to increase by 3.4% each year until 2023[8].

However, with 17% of the UK population aged 75 and over by 2050[9], supply must meet demand if adult social care is expected to improve, and for more hospital beds to be made available.



[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38859217

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-50290033 no.1

[3] https://fullfact.org/health/bed-blocking-what-it-and-it-paralysing-nhs/

[4] https://fullfact.org/health/bed-blocking-what-it-and-it-paralysing-nhs/

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-50290033 no.8

[6] https://www.accessandmobilityprofessional.com/nhs-bed-blocking-down-10-year-on-year/

[7] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-50290033 no. 4

[8] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-50290033 no. 2

[9] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-50290033 no. 5