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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Blocked bed numbers fall sharply
Bed blocking has been a major problem
There has been a big fall in the number of hospital beds blocked by patients unable to take up community-based care.

Figures show the number of delayed discharges has fallen by more than 4,000 since a drive to tackle the problem began.

In March 2004, 2,895 hospital beds were blocked. In September 2001 the figure was 7,065.

Health Secretary John Reid said the cut was the equivalent of adding eight extra hospitals to the NHS.

Delayed discharges
September 2001 - 7,065
December 2001 - 6,419
March 2002 - 5,473
June 2002 - 5,489
September 2002 - 5,385
December 2002 - 4,586
March 2003 - 4,154
June 2003 - 4,170
September 2003 - 4,267
December 2003 - 3,220
March 2004 - 2,895
Ministers launched the 'Cash for Change' programme in October 2001, which provided 300m to local councils over two years to boost facilities to care for patients leaving hospital.

And since the start of this year the government has toughened up its approach - fining local authorities who fail to provide adequate levels of care.

Social services have two days to find a place for someone ready to be discharged or face a 100 fine.

Mr Reid said the get-tough policy had provided an added impetus to drive down the number of blocked hospital beds.

He said: "Those 4,000 extra free beds are the equivalent of adding eight typical district general hospitals to the NHS - helping us speed up treatment for those who need it."

"And this progress means 4,000 people who are well enough to leave hospital are in safe surroundings, whether in their own homes with the extra support they need, in extra care units or in a care home."


Critics of the fines system have warned that elderly patients could be forced into care homes miles from their families.

However, Andrew Cozens, president of the Assocation for Directors of Social Services, told BBC News Online this had not been the case.

He said many social services departments had invested in setting up new intermediate care facilities.

"Good prgoress had been made in most parts of the country before reimbursement [the fines system] was brought in, but reimburseent did provide a focus for better cooperation in those areas that were hotspots of delayed discharge," he said.

He said many of the remaining cases were the result of problems moving patients between NHS institutions, rather than into local authority setings.

Tim Yeo, Shadow Secretary for Health and Education, said Labour had a track record of using statistics to tell only one side of a story.

"With 74,000 fewer care home places and with 100,000 fewer households receiving home care packages, patient's interests may have been compromised as hard-pressed local authorities were trying to avoid fines.

"As the government has stopped publishing emergency re-admission rates for over 75s, we cannot check if Labour's push to clear beds is harming some of the most vulnerable people in society."

Sandra Gidley, for the Liberal Democrats, said: "John Reid is being complacent about the level of bed blocking.

"The figure blocked is much higher than the government admit as they are not counting all beds in their figures.

"The reality is that far too many vulnerable people are not receiving the most appropriate care."

Warning over bed-blocking fines
02 Jan 04  |  Health
Q&A: Bed-blocking
17 Sep 03  |  Health
Bed-blocking: a fine approach?
02 Jan 04  |  Health

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