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Bed blocking 'on the increase'


The number of patients staying in hospital despite being well enough to leave has risen in the last year, according to a survey.

The poll for the Guardian, conducted by, quizzed around 500 doctors, half of whom said the practice, known as bed blocking, was worse now than a year ago.

Bed blocking does not mean that hospitals are taking too long to get patients ready to leave, but are often due to delays in arranging the necessary level of care for patients who are often still heavily dependent following serious illness or major surgery.

Dr Tim Ringrose, medical director of, said: “This research shows that hospital doctors throughout the UK are still struggling with the phenomenon of bed blocking.

“It’s not good for patients and it’s wasting valuable resources.”

Nigel Edwards of the NHS Confederation, added: “This is something we’ve been worrying about.

“There was a big improvement in this four or five years ago. But over the last few years there’s been a feeling that in some places the situation has deteriorated again.”

The Department of Health said it was making more than £160m available between to help patients leave hospital sooner and alleviate the problem.

Andrew Lansley told the paper: “It’s really important, particularly at this time of year, that we help people to leave hospital as quickly as they can, when they are ready.”



Readers' comments (7)

  • The NHS needs to invest in facilities which care for people who don't need Hospital care, but who are too poorly to go home to relatives who can't cope and to care services which are having their funding cut.

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  • Better use of community hospitals would help in both the rehab process and in preventing admission in the first place.

    Lot of discussion re virtual wards; has to be the way forward in trying to make the acute and the social aspects of care work more seamlessly.

    Heard word in England where there is to be 'Tests of Change' regarding budget holding including NHS and Social Care; look forward to seeing results.

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  • Nurses block beds too with existing patients to prevent new admissions when there is a staff shortage or when they do not have time to admit patients. I have seen this in practice in the UK when I set up a discharge lounge and met with considerable resistance from the staff on the wards for earlier discharge of their patients. I confess I and my colleagues were guilty of this as well on occasions when we were working alone on particularly busy were there were lots of potential emergencies to cope with. A&E sent up their admissions at any time without assessing convenience on the wards. This retention of patients was from half an hour up to a few days. But then a few years ago perhaps things were very different?

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  • Bed blocking was de riggeur when I was a staff nurse in mental health. A 29 bed ward could have just ten patients on it and be considered "full" if the other 19 beds had patients allocated to them who were on home leave. Of course it is very different in the acute sector, and the worrying thing for me is that this has little to do with the reconfiguration of community services in the wake of the CSR, the effect of those budget reductions is yet to be properly felt.

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  • the govenment and nhs should invest in step down beds in the community setting so that as soon as a person is fit to leave the acute setting and care cant be found for a few weeks or months in some cases the patient can have a place which is safe to go loike the old converlesant homes

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  • 'Bed blocking' is translated through to the patient as being 'a bed blocker'. Isn't that a piece of wood or metal that heightens a bed from the floor? 'Bed state', is the bed in good working order?....Another inanimate term,....'a delayed discharge'....and so on. Perhaps if we talk about patients as people and not as inanimate objects on a conveyor belt, those developing services will be more aware of the sensitive issues that are required for setting up community services. Preventing admission to hospital is an admirable concept, but our council is closing 5 of their 8 establishments that provide that service.

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  • free at the point of delivery, however taxpaying citizens in GB are paying for their healthcare and are entitled to it when needed and in adequate supply and quality according to their rights and needs. nobody in the land knows when they may need hospital/medical/nursing care, etc. and at the times when they are fortunate not to need it they are still paying to support others who do. this is known in democracies as solidarity and is the way the system works so it is not admirable to prevent hospital admissions or use patients as tools to block beds. However, as mentioned above, as nurses I and my colleagues have been 'guilty' of using patients to block beds so that we could better manage our admissions when we had time to adequately cope with them instead of accepting them on the ward and shoving them in a corridor, dayroom or corner until there 'may be' time at a later date to admit them in a calm and dignified manner and welcome them to and orientate them on our ward.

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