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Why is the Government not taking more action to alleviate the blocking of hospital beds?

Bed blocking is a major problem within NHS hospitals across England, with an estimated 10,000 thousand patients sitting in hospital beds facing a ‘delayed discharge’ until the necessary next stage of their care becomes available. A delay may be non-availability of a temporary or permanent space in a residential home, or rehabilitation unit, or a smaller community hospital, or lack of a supportive care package for their return home.

Yet despite the Government being in possession of this knowledge, I am not aware of any urgent strategy to alleviate the problem. Indeed, way back in 2016 an independent review by Labour peer Lord Carter found nearly one in 10 beds was taken by someone medically fit to be released and that delays in discharging patients from hospital after treatment could be costing the NHS in England millions of pounds a year. His report described the issue as a ‘major problem’ causing operations to be cancelled and resulting in the NHS paying private hospitals to see patients.

Protection of the NHS at all costs

This week Boris Johnson addressed the nation in an emergency following major concern about the spread of the Omicron Virus, imploring us all to get the booster jab. At the heart of the matter is not only his concern about the nation’s health but the impact on the NHS who may be unable to cope with the level of admissions if the Omicron Virus is more threatening than is currently known.

Delays in hospital operations

The Covid pandemic has led to the diversion of NHS resources to meet the demand of hospital admissions caused by the disease. Consequently, people seeking operations for serious illnesses such as cancer are having to wait. It is estimated that it may take up to five years before the NHS catches up with the backlog.

Although one could argue that some of the delay will be caused by the lack of medical staff to carry out operations, the lack of bed space is also a major contributory factor.

The availability of community resources

At a time when we should be seriously thinking about addressing the issue of bed blocking. Government action has led to an estimated 50,000 care staff to have left the social care industry. The Governments 10-year plan at best visionary and aspirational, does little to address the bed blocking situation which many see as a major problem.

There is nothing specific either within the plan that addresses how providers will encourage staff to remain within the industry, let alone encourage them to join it.

We are left with a simple equation; the recognition that people cannot be released from hospital if there are no care homes beds or home care packages available to meet their needs.


The issue of bed blocking in hospitals has been around for some time now. There seems to be a fundamental dichotomy that needs to be addressed between the clinical responsibilities of hospitals, and the rehabilitation and care that can be provided in the community.

Hospitals in England through no fault of their own have patients occupying hospital beds when they could be cared for in the community. The impact of the pandemic has resulted in the allocation of more beds to cope with the treatment of covid. Meanwhile, people are dying because they cannot get the treatment for serious illnesses, and we are talking of delays of up to five years.

Given the amount of energy and effort put in by the Government to protect the NHS from being overrun. I cannot see for the life of me why it has not taken urgent action to come up with a strategy to end this needless waste of resources in the NHS. Surely, they must realise that most people would prefer to be cared for at home after hospital treatment, rather than confined to a hospital ward.

Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy

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