Headlines: October 10th, 2001

About a thousand hospital beds occupied by elderly patients who don’t need medical care will be freed up by new funding announced by Health Secretary Alan Millburn. 300 million pounds will be available over two years to allow councils to provide alternative facilities in the local community so that more patients can be admitted to hospital and pressure on waiting lists reduced. The money comes with strings and only those local authorities working closely with the private sector will be funded.The scale of bed blocking has been increasing steadily. Inflation and a rise in the minimum wage have resulted in care home owners increasing their costs. There is now a significant gap between the costs of care and the price that local authorities pay. Owners say that the fees they have received from social services departments are simply not high enough to make ends meet and this has led to the closure of nursing and residential homes across the country.

Earlier attempts to tackle the bed blocking problem have been focused on the health service. Funds have been made available to NHS Trusts to help reduce delays in discharging patients by improving rehabilitation and recuperation services as well providing extra nursing home places. Funding has also been targeted at reducing the need for people to be admitted to hospital in the first place, by strengthening primary and community services. There is now a recognition that pumping extra money into the health service to free blocked beds would make little contribution to heading off a winter bed crisis and that only by breaking with tradition and chanelling new money directly to councils will there be any short term impact.