Bed blocking has risen by a third over four years as a result of severe cuts to social services budgets said the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trade Union (GMB).
Days lost to bed blocking have increased by 32% in English hospitals from 1,373,392 days in 2011-12 to 1,809,883 days in 2015-16.
The northwest was the worst hit region with an increase of 91,234 days lost over that time frame – a 66% increase.
Rehana Azam, GMB national secretary for public services, said: “Bed-blocking, which is a millstone around the neck of the NHS, has got considerably worse since the Tories took control of the nation’s finances.
“Bed-blocking is now a problem made in Downing Street and the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are wholly responsible for it.
“The severe cuts in local authorities’ social services provision is the major contributory factor for bed-blocking getting worse.”
She added: “Councils have had to shunt the problem to the NHS. Councils have not been able to accept the patients from the NHS because they have been starved of funds.
“The government has refused to fund the NHS fairly and in recent years, health spending has fallen well short of GDP [gross domestic product]. As the fifth richest country, it’s dire how our old and vulnerable are being treated.”
The GMB said reasons for the delays include finding a suitable care home (27.8%), sorting out care at a patient’s home (19.9%), delays in arranging further NHS care (18.3%) and interagency delays (17.1%).
Janet Morrison, chief executive of Independent Age, a support charity for older people, agreed that “chronic under investment in social care” is a main driver behind the rise in bed blocking.
She said: “In just five years, the number of bed days lost because patients were waiting for care and support in their own home has nearly tripled. At nearly 32,000 bed days lost in one month, this is the now the single biggest cause of delays.”
The latest NHS performance statistics on delayed transfers of care showed that nearly 6,000 patients, deemed healthy, were occupying hospital beds on a single night in April 2016 – the highest number on record.
The statistics also showed that in total there were 167,700 delayed days that month – the second highest on record after March 2016.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) said: “Reducing the number of beds and staff available for people who are acutely ill, at a time when the demands on hospitals are rising fast is bad for the NHS.
“Nurses working in the community can help people manage their conditions at home, and can prevent health problems becoming so serious they require expensive and disruptive hospital treatment.
“Investing in community and social care services would see older people receiving more appropriate care and reduce pressure on the wider health and social care system.
“Continuing to cut back these services when the numbers of older people are rising rapidly is unacceptable, for patients and for NHS finances. The NHS needs to be much more ambitious about fixing the issue now.”
The NHS statistics follow a statement from Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, in which he told parliament that the problem of bed-blocking could continues for the next five years as “there are real pressures building in social care”, which could “spill over” into the NHS.
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