Councils facing £1.3m bed-blocking fines
By Rebecca SheppardFINES to reduce bed-blocking in East Anglian hospitals could lead to councils facing a hefty pay-out of about £1.3million this year.
By Rebecca Sheppard
FINES to reduce bed-blocking in East Anglian hospitals could lead to councils facing a hefty pay-out of about £1.3million this year.
The Government announced that from January 1 social services will have two days to find a place for bed-blockers - patients who declared fit to leave hospital, but for whom they are no social care places available - or face fines of up to £100 a day.
But social care experts in the region warned the money available for other services would have to be trimmed as departments struggled to meet the cost of financial penalties from their budgets.
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Elderly residents could also face the possibility of being forced into care homes miles away from their families.
Suffolk County Council was responsible for about 17 bed-blockers on December 29 - which under the new rules would leave them facing fines of about £1,700 a day, amounting to £62,0500 a year.
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Chris Lane, a spokesman for Suffolk County Council, said the figures showed there had been 22 people whose discharges from Ipswich Hospital had been delayed.
Social services were responsible for eight of these people and would incur a fine for every day they were waiting to be placed into care under the new legislation.
There were 16 bed-blockers at West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds, with nine of them waiting for social services to place them. Three patients at James Paget Hospital in Gorleston also had their discharges delayed.
However, only six months ago Suffolk was facing a bed-blocking crisis with 107 patients occupying hospital places because there was nowhere in the community for them to be looked after.
Anthony Douglas, director of social care at Suffolk County Council, said: “We have agreed with most of the health care trusts to invest the money into services that will prevent people going to hospital and help them to leave as soon as they are ready.
“Our funding does not stretch to cover absolutely everybody delayed in hospital, so we will have to find that money from somewhere else, so it means less for other service groups, perhaps people with mental health problems.”
Mr Douglas added about £14,000 a week would need to be invested to meet the costs of the legislation, with about £700 a week being paid out by the council in penalties.
Roger Sinden, head of community care at Essex County Council, said at any one time there were between 17 and 20 residents whose releases from hospitals were delayed for social care reasons.
Under the new legislation, its social services department would incur a fine of up to £730,000 a year for those residents.
He said the latest figures for late November showed there were two bed-blockers in Colchester General Hospital who were the responsibility of social services and three in Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford.
Derek Robinson, cabinet member for community care, said the measure would “cause problems” and would not help the department to “obtain the best service”.
He added: “By being fined, it goes against what the Government is trying to do. It wants to help people at home, but if they take money away, then it does not help.
“This will come out of my budget and while it will not necessarily have an immediate effect, for example on the Council Tax set, it will put a strain on the community care budget and the provision of the service.”
But Mr Robinson said people would not be placed in sub-standard care just so they could be taken out of hospital to save the council £100, but he conceded older people could find themselves being looked after further away from their families.
“There is the possibility that the care provision is not always as close as we would like to the place where people reside,” he added.