STAFF at Oxfordshire’s hospitals have been praised for continuing to reduce the number of bedblockers, despite encountering the busiest time of the year.
In March last year, the month’s average number of bedblockers – patients who are fit enough to be discharged, but are stuck in hospital because the next phase of their care is not ready – was 191.
This was reduced to 115 by July and the average figure for December was 100, although this total still needs to be confirmed by the Department of Health.
Despite the increase in the number of patients they had to deal with in the winter, the county’s health workers have been thanked for the way they have worked together and reduced bedblocking. On the weekend of January 5-6, all 1,200 main hospital beds across the county were full. Some non-emergency operations were cancelled, with Oxfordshire’s NHS services under severe strain from winter health problems such as respiratory illnesses, flu and pneumonia.
In September 2011, Dr Stephen Richards, chief clinical officer at Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said he was tackling the county’s bedblocking crisis head-on.
It was announced a new Acceptable Care for Everyone (Ace) board would for the first time oversee a pooled budget, and top clinicians looked at how to simplify patients’ journeys between health bodies.
Following the latest figures, Dr Richards said: “I am encouraged by the decrease in the number of patients staying too long in hospitals across Oxfordshire – it is a testament to the whole system working together.
“Everyone from GPs to South Central Ambulance Trust teams to staff from across health and social care services have played their part and worked more closely and efficiently.”
Trust bosses aim to reduce the average bedblocking figure to 76 by the end of March but, due to current high demand for beds, they fear they could miss their target.
Paul Brennan, pictured, the trust’s director of clinical services, said at the trust board meeting last week he was not certain if the target for bedblocking – known as delayed transfers of care – would be met.
He said: “We have made positive steps, but can I positively say by March that it will be 76 with the level of activity coming through the doors? No I can’t.
“Despite a very difficult period over the last couple of months, staff from across Oxfordshire’s health and social care organisations have made a very positive contribution to the reduction of delayed transfers of care.
“Thanks to the collaborative work of staff in Oxford’s acute hospitals, in community hospitals and social care teams, we have been able to reduce the number of patients who are waiting to leave either an acute or community hospital bed for the next stage of their care.”
Oxford Health Foundation NHS Trust, which runs community hospitals, has a re-ablement team to ensure people who leave hospital are helped back to health and independent living.
Last year, there was a problem recruiting enough staff, and in September £1m was injected into the service to ease the bed-blocking crisis.
In June the service, paid for by Oxfordshire County Council and is delivered by Oxford Health Foundation NHS Trust, had 47 staff vacancies out of 110 full- and part-time positions.
This has now been reduced to 15.
In July last year, there were 115 people stuck in hospital beds unnecessarily, down from 151 in June, and down from 175 at the peak of the problem ins October 2011.
The August 2012 average figure was 117, September 2012 was 144, October 2012 was 108, November 2012 was 88 and December 2012 was 100.
It costs the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust about £5m a year in staffing extra beds set up for bedblockers.