Bed-blocking patients who refuse to leave hospital could face legal action

Hospitals have been ordered to take legal action against patients who refuse to get out of bed when they no longer need treatment.

More than one in seven beds in English hospitals is currently occupied by patients deemed medically fit to travel, official NHS data shows, with around 12,000 stranded as of January 9.

The NHS England guidance, sent out just before Christmas, said if a patient “of mental fitness” refuses to leave because they will not accept the follow-up care offered, the Trust should follow the local dismissal policy, which could result in legal action.

The guidance seen by the HSJ says that “the proceeding may include seeking an order for possession of the hospital bed under Part 55 of the Code of Civil Procedure.”

If a trust applies for such an order, the case would be heard in a district court and if the judge rules in its favour, a notice to vacate the bed would be served on the patient.

frugality of social welfare

Patient groups warn that the guidelines appear to blame patients rather than the “sparseness” of currently available social care for the bed-blocking problem.

Hundreds of nursing homes have been closed to new admissions in recent weeks due to the proliferation of the Omicron variant, limiting social care options for patients who are able to leave the hospital.

Helen Wildbore, director of the Relatives & Residents Association (R&RA), said the guidance will be “disturbing” for those already in such a vulnerable situation.

“Not only do older people anxiously await appropriate care and support, they also need to hear the message now that they are the problem,” she said.

“R&RA and many others have been warning for months that care shortages are putting people’s safety and well-being at risk and that this will have an impact on the NHS. Now it’s at a critical juncture, but older, vulnerable people aren’t to blame.”

The step-down care offered to patients who are ready to leave the hospital may not always be appropriate because it is miles away from loved ones or does not meet patients’ needs and desires, Ms Wildbore said.

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