Hospitals such as Townlands Hospital in Henley are held up as excellent examples of new ways of working that are helping to address health concerns such as the integration of social care and the NHS and the provision of social care at home. The hospital has beds available in the adjacent care home for those who really need them but otherwise works on rapid assessment and treatment of people in day care. This is a model which is being promoted widely elsewhere with Townlands as the exemplar.
Bed blocking as it is often referred to occurs where it is difficult to assess and release patients into social care quickly enough. It is not a question of the numbers of beds which are available – medical assessments suggest we have enough beds. It is a question of throughput of patients. Care homes play a vital role in this in providing intermediary places while assessments are conducted and social care found. The good news is that there has been a distinct improvement in the amount of time individuals have to be in hospital while the social care is arranged and the average time is currently about a week.
Across the country, concern over the provision of adult social care has been a key issue in recent weeks and months. It was also an issue at the top of the agenda in the regular meeting of Oxfordshire MPs and Oxfordshire Health Chief Executives today which I chair. It is important that, where it is medically possible, people are cared for in their own home. This is not simply about NHS efficiency but more critically that time in a hospital bed causes accelerated deterioration of health. The best place to be, if at all possible, is at home – a move backed by the Royal College of Physicians and GPs.
Ensuring there is sufficient staff to meet the need can have a knock-on effect on delayed discharges from acute hospitals. That is why key discussions are taking place between the County Council Adult Social Services team, who are responsible for staffing the domiciliary care, and the NHS teams to seek alternative ways to resource this growing need. It is why we, as MPs, are asking for the money which has been given by the Chancellor to local government to cover social care be spent on hiring suitable carers.
The issue of 'bed blocking' has also been raised in relation to the delay of routine operations. Although this is sometimes the case, more often routine operations are postponed due to urgent cases coming in which necessarily have to take priority. I can well appreciate the distress caused when a planned procedure is postponed at last minute. I am sure most people will understand that life threatening cases have to be given priority. I am assured that every effort is made to avoid delays and addressing the domiciliary care concerns will no doubt help.