So – Lord Carter has said in a report published today that hospitals need to find a solution to ‘bed blocking’. Now, that’s an easy one. I know what needs to happen. Four words – sort out social care! If the Government was prepared to spend some money on doing this rather than cutting services left, right and centre, otherwise healthy people could be discharged safely from hospital as soon as they are better, freeing up their beds!
How do I know this? Because I was bed-blocker myself. Last winter I became ill. Very ill. I had to be taken into hospital for, what proved to be, a lengthy stay due to having developed a seriously infected pressure sore. Now, I am more than prepared to acknowledge that, initially, hospital was the best place for me. I need IV antibiotics and thrice daily dressing changes and specialist treatment and stuff like that, but I was, to all intents and purposes, ready for discharge three or four weeks before it actually happened. Sure the wound from the sore was still there but the infection had been dealt with. The PIC line, the way the medics were getting the IV antibiotics into me was removed and I was given tablets to take instead. I was ready to go. Well, I say I was ready to go but that didn’t actually happen. Not then, anyway. I continued to lie in my hospital bed in the ward, for several weeks, after I had been told I could go home.
I became a bed-blocker.
The thing that stopped me and delayed my discharge was trying to organise a home-care package for me. I needed two things, medical attention to continue with changing the dressings and ensuring the infection didn’t come back and a care package so I could have people coming into my home every day to help wash, feed and do some cleaning for me. Medical care was easy. District nurses and my GP could deal with that. It was the home-care package that was the sticking point. It was only after I had made many several tearful phone calls to a contact I have on my local council that Social Services got their act together and a package was agreed so I could leave. Social Workers did their best but found it nigh on impossible to sort out an agency to provide the carers I needed. Three visits, with two carers each time, every day. A grand total of 31.5 hours each week.
As far as I can make out the major issue was the amount of money carers are paid. Considering the things they are expected to do their rate of pay is derisory, under ten pounds per hour. That’s all. They get no money to cover the time they spend travelling between jobs, under ten pounds per hour for the time they spend with an actual client. Most of the ladies that come to me have several clients they are paid to see but they get nothing for the travel time between us all. This can amount to two or three hours travelling time every day but they get nothing for it. And, there should be sufficient money in the budget to allow carers to spend the necessary time they need with clients as well. Fifteen minute visits need to end now. How can anyone be expected to care for someone properly in just fifteen minutes? Short-cuts will happen and people with suffer.
The Government really does need to take a long, hard look at social care in this country. Social Services should have sufficient funds to be able to pay carers a reasonable sum for what they do. Carers should be recompensed for the time they have to spend travelling if they are visiting several people every day. Salary levels should be increased so that more people can be attracted into, what can often be, a very difficult role. If we are entrusting the care of our older and disabled citizens to an under-funded service. What can we expect apart from people left languishing in over-stretched hospital wards for far longer than is needed. Bed blocking is a problem that is only likely to increase as our population ages. Until there is enough funding for proper social care, we can expect more and more otherwise healthy people to be left in our hospitals far longer than is needed. There may currently be a cash-crisis but, unless our Government starts looking for a longer term solution and increases funding for social care improvements, things are only likely to get worse. People who have no need of a hospital bed will be left on our wards for weeks whilst people who are in urgent need of treatment will have nowhere to go.
Listen to the professionals who know what they are talking about. Stop the penny-pinching and start investing. Bed blocking shouldn’t be allowed to happen any longer. Act now before it’s too late and a fixable problem becomes an insurmountable crisis. Fund social care properly and stop expecting home care professionals to work for nothing.