Sunday 22 September 2019

Hospital bed blocking hits new high as 769 patients left in limbo

Health Minister Simon Harris has held talks with the HSE. Picture: Collins
Health Minister Simon Harris has held talks with the HSE. Picture: Collins
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The number of hospital beds 'blocked' by patients who are fit to be discharged but are without step-down supports has soared to a record 769 over the summer.

Health Minister Simon Harris said yesterday he is concerned at the volume of patients, known as delayed discharges, which has built up.

He has held talks with the HSE about transferring them to nursing homes or arranging step-down care.

The issue is having an impact on trolley numbers as a lack of beds means patients in emergency departments cannot be moved to wards.

A spokesperson for the HSE said acute and community services work closely together to manage any delays in patients being discharged.

"Patients who can return home with home support are prioritised for that service," he said. Asked about the threat of a virulent flu this winter, based on its impact in Australia in recent months, he said he was aware of reports about its severity but the key message to at-risk groups was to get the flu vaccine.

The expected surge in pressure on the health service in the winter is forcing the HSE to ease off financial rationing and start moving scores of mostly older patients who are occupying hospital beds. The imminent pressure means the HSE, which has been rationing the €1bn budget for nursing home care as well as a €450m fund for home care in recent months, will have to start loosening the purse strings even though it is heavily in the red.

Fianna Fáil is also heaping political pressure on the Government and the run-up to the next general election is expected to see unrelenting criticism of shortfalls in services.

It comes as Age Action called for an extra €110m to be invested in home supports to begin to meet the unmet need for homecare packages and home supports.

The proposal in its pre-Budget submission comes as more than 6,300 people assessed as needing homecare are left on the waiting list.

Chief executive Paddy Connolly said this figure did not include those older people who had not yet been assessed.

"An additional problem is that many older people in vulnerable situations, and in particular those on low incomes, are left without home supports they desperately need due to the fact that local health service budgets dictate access to services and not the individual's need," he said.

"This approach leads to grossly inequitable outcomes for older people which results purely from where they happen to live."

The average home care package is now six hours a week - not 10 hours as previously estimated.

Fewer hours "are being spread more thinly per client with an increase in the provision of short 30-minute slots of care which result in poorer outcomes for service users", Mr Connolly said.

Age Action is calling for a €9-a-week rise in the old age pension in next month's Budget.

In 2009, the weekly income for pensioners depending on the State - when all the benefits were added together - was €265.44. This year it is €273.63 - only €8.19 higher than it was 10 years ago.

Irish Independent

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