Suffolk's 'bed blocking' costs

BED blocking in Suffolk is costing council tax payers millions of pounds each year, new Government figures have revealed.Statistics published by health ministers estimate around £100 each day is spent caring for every elderly patient blocking an acute hospital bed within the county – with the annual cost running at just under £5 million.

BED blocking in Suffolk is costing council tax payers millions of pounds each year, new Government figures have revealed.

Statistics published by health ministers estimate around £100 each day is spent caring for every elderly patient blocking an acute hospital bed within the county – with the annual cost running at just under £5 million.

But officials from County Hall have hit back, saying the estimates bear no relation to the true cost to the taxpayer.

The figures are based on the number of patients blocking acute hospital beds during the last nine months of 2002, despite being well enough to leave. In Suffolk, this averaged 130 per day, 32 of which were in the west of the county. Ministers failed to provide figures for the first quarter of this year.

The news has angered Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley, who said the resources spent on housing bed blockers within the NHS should instead be used to fund care packages allowing elderly patients to be discharged sooner.

"I do not believe that Suffolk County Council should be congratulated on achieving any bed blocking targets that involve wasting literally millions of pounds a year in Suffolk," he said.

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"That money could be put to more constructive use in giving older people the care packages they need and that, at the moment, are simply not being resourced."

But a spokesman for Suffolk County Council said the estimated figures did not relate to the actual bill met by taxpayers, as the number of patients awaiting discharge has been reduced.

He also added the council had hit its target for reducing delays for two consecutive years running.

"The county council is very likely to hit the Government's target for reducing the numbers of people facing delayed discharges from our local hospitals," he said.

"The figures quoted bear no relation to the current cost of discharges, precisely because we have been successful in reducing the numbers of people delayed.

"We have, jointly with NHS partners, reduced delays at West Suffolk Hospital from 21 a year ago, to eight this week."

And Cllr Terry Green, who is responsible for social care on the council's executive committee, said he was confident the reduction in the number of bed blockers would continue.

"We work very closely with all our colleagues from health, both at the Primary Care Trusts and our local hospitals, and they are all very positive about the progress we are making together," he said.

"Although we still have some way to go, as partners we are committed to reducing acute delays to single figures in Suffolk."

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