CASES of so-called ‘bed blocking’ involving patients from Cheshire West soared in 2019 – and health chiefs are eager to get to grips with the issue.

The time taken up by delayed transfers of care almost doubled between last January and November, according to new figures presented to Cheshire West health and wellbeing board on Wednesday.

It is a problem that causes distress to patients – who are left stuck waiting to be discharged from hospital – and puts strain on the NHS.

Cllr Louise Gittins, Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Labour leader, told the board: “Each of these numbers is a person and we need to remember the impact that it has on the individual and their families.

“I know if it was my mum, I would be jumping up and down and shouting about it.”

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Time taken up by delayed discharges involving patients from Cheshire West rose from 675 days in January 2019 to 1,219 days in November.

The problem can be caused by a number of issues – such as a delay in finding further care for a patient who requires home visits or care in a nursing home.

Delays can be caused by issues either in the social care system or in the NHS – and both parties have worked together to try and reduce the problem in recent year.

Those efforts appeared to be working when the number of delayed days dropped from around 1,000 a month to 720 in November 2018 and 652 the following month.

But 2019 saw a steady increase in the number of delayed days each month – except a spike in July and August, when there were 3,067 delayed days in total.

Cllr Gittins added: “We seem to be doing so many different things but we just can’t nail it.

Winsford Guardian:

“We just need to carry on doing the best we can, coming up with new ideas, and hopefully the big strategic ideas we came up with that are more long-term will start to make a difference.

“But I can’t emphasise enough the importance that there is an issue now that we need to look at addressing.”

Members of the health and wellbeing board were told that Cheshire West, along with 16 other north west boroughs, is among the worst-performing 25 per cent of boroughs in the country for the delays.

The main cause of the issue in Cheshire West is the number of delays for patients who require care in their own home.

Delayed discharges cause capacity issues at hospitals – including Leighton and the Countess of Chester – as beds are not readily available for patients who need them more urgently.

It is also costly for the NHS, as it is more expensive to continue to provide care for patients in a hospital than in other, more appropriate places.

James Sumner is chief executive of Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Leighton Hospital and Victoria Infirmary Northwich.

“We recognise that this is a significant problem that can’t be fixed just like that,” he said.

Winsford Guardian:

“We are currently spending a fortune keeping people in a place that they don’t need to be and don’t want to be.

“For every day a patient is in one of our acute beds, depending on the cost, you are talking five to 10 care packages could be put in for the same cost – or a week’s worth of care home stay if that is the right place.

“If we can find solutions that will reduce the spend in the hospital sector we should be looking at ways to transfer that money to the right place.”

Mr Sumner added that there is an increase in the number of elderly patients who are attending hospital and are being readmitted into hospital – placing further pressure on the NHS.

At the same time, social care workers are dealing with a four per cent increase in the number of people receiving care at home, plus a six per cent increase in the time spent caring for them.

That means vulnerable residents in Cheshire West are developing more complex issues and it takes longer for care workers to support them – causing more delayed transfers of care.

Labour Cllr Val Armstrong, cabinet member for adult social care and public health, said: “Clearly we have got increasing demand and increasing complexity.

Winsford Guardian:

“One of the issues is that there isn’t enough funding in the system. It is really important that we adequately fund social care because we support the NHS, we support the economy.

“But we are not doing well enough and I don’t think we should hide behind the fact that other areas in the north west are not doing well either, because we are talking about individual people.

“Although a lot of areas in the north west are not doing well, there are some that are doing much better, and we need to keep going back to discover what these areas are doing.”

Conservative Cllr Lynn Riley, shadow cabinet member for adult social care and public health, suggested that CWAC and NHS commissioners should consider backing new community services that can provide cheaper support to vulnerable residents and prevent hospital admissions.

She said: “There are very cheap and small interventions that you can commission in communities that will make a huge amount of difference.

Winsford Guardian:

“We put £6,000 into the Opal Club in Frodsham and that supports a group of people every Tuesday, help and support for them and their carer networks, and that is 52 weeks of the year for £6,000.

“The care sector itself is under pressure. Anything we can do to help them care for the people that we present to them is good business for them and they will engage with you.

“If we are serious about prevention we need to perhaps have some different conversations.”