“Pressures on hospitals to empty thousands of beds ahead of winter could risk the safety of frail elderly patients, the chief inspector of social care has warned.
Andrea Sutcliffe said she was concerned that vulnerable patients would be moved into inadequate facilities, after councils were told funding could be cut if they do not reduce bedblocking rates in their local hospitals.
She told a conference: “I worry that if people focus just on moving people through the system quickly then does that mean that they will force the discharge of somebody that is old and frail into a service which we have rated ‘inadequate’, which would put them at risk potentially.”
Urging council leaders to focus on protecting the vulnerable, “whatever the short term imperatives are,” she raised concern about a “heightened level of tension” between councils and NHS trusts, over who was to blame for the number of elderly people stuck in hospital for want of social care.
People really have to hold on to what are the right things to do – hold on to good relationships and also make sure they are not compromising on safety,” she told the National Children and Adult Services Conference last week, Local Government Chronicle reported.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, in September ordered hospitals to free up more than 2,000 beds amid fears that bed occupancy levels are too high for services to cope, as winter pressures mount.
NHS England’s director for acute care, Prof Keith Willett on Wednesday said it would be “extremely difficult” for the health service to get back to the performance it achieved four years ago without increased funding.
Nationally, the NHS has not hit any of its three key targets for 18 months, with longer waits in A&E, as well as for cancer treatment and other planned surgery.
A spokesman for NHS England said: “Hospitals and GPs are preparing intensively for this winter, and would remind people of the importance of having a flu vaccination. There are 21 million people eligible this year, but last year eight million people missed out and that is something we can all definitely change.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “No one should have to stay in hospital longer than necessary – it undermines dignity and reduces quality of life so it is right that we are tackling delayed transfers of care as part of our wider efforts to improve care for patients.
“We’ve already provided £2 billion in additional funding for social care and committed to a consultation to ensure the sector is sustainable in the long term.”