Bed blocking crisis as 292 patients free to go home remain on wards

Under-pressure Black Country hospitals are being hit by extra strain because nearly 300 patients are taking up beds – even though they are well enough to be discharged.

Latest figures show that last Sunday, 292 beds at the four NHS trusts were occupied by patients who no longer needed to be in hospital – commonly known as bed blocking.

It meant more than one in 10 of general and acute and critical care beds were taken up by people who didn’t need to be in them.

Covid patients in West Midlands hospitals fall as mask and vaccine rules scrapped

The result is while Covid admissions are now falling, hospitals remain under severe pressure with bed occupancy high and staffing absence still a huge problem.

Ambulances have also been queuing for hours outside hospitals because there are not enough available beds, impacting the ambulance service’s ability to get to emergencies in quick time.

A total of 458 ambulances had to wait more than 30 minutes to handover patients at Black Country A&Es last week (14.1 per cent), including 102 waiting more than an hour (3.1 per cent).

That’s the equivalent of one in seven ambulances facing a wait of more than half an hour. The target is for handovers to take under 15 minutes.

That compares to the previous week when 446 ambulances waited half-an-hour or longer (14.3%), with 146 waiting more than an hour (4.7%).

Bed blocking has been a huge challenge for the NHS for years and is often caused by problems securing patients a place in a care or nursing home, or the authorization of a family member for them to leave hospital.

Staff absences, caused by the need to self-isolate, are still an issue but the number off sick is now starting to fall.

A total of 6,695 days were lost at Black Country hospitals in the week ending January 23 because staff were sick or self-isolating due to Covid. That was down 23.9 per cent from 8,794 the week before, and down 40.6 per cent from 11,269 days lost a fortnight ago.

There were 2,091 staff absent for any reason on January 23 – around one in 13 of the workforce.

NHS national medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “While it is positive to see more NHS staff back at work, pressure on the NHS is still intense, having seen the busiest week for ambulances taking patients to A&E since the start of December – up almost 2,000 on the week before last – all while pushing to deliver as many routine checks and procedures as possible, including vital diagnostic checks.

“Our staff have already had what feels like a long winter, but despite everything they have had to contend with, they continue to step up as they always do; answering thousands more 111 calls last week than the seven days before, continuing to care for thousands of Covid patients and maintaining non-Covid procedures, and working closely with colleagues in social care to get people out of hospital safely.

“The public can help us by coming forward for their lifesaving Covid vaccines, and as has been the case throughout the pandemic, if you have a health problem, please go to 111 online and call 999 when it is a life threatening condition – the NHS is here for you.”

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