Headlines: February 18th, 2003

Plans to fine local authority social services departments over delays in getting patients out of hospital and cared for in the community should be put off for a year, according to the British Medical Association.The BMA says delayed discharges are a serious problem with around 5,000 patients of all ages occupying acute hospital beds in England alone, despite being ready to leave hospital. But it believes Government plans to penalise social services are untimely.

The Community Care (Delayed Discharge) Bill which contains the powers to impose the fines continues its committee stage in the House of Lords today. The BMA is supporting amendments to delay the introduction of penalties for at least a year. A document it has sent to members of the Lords explains that it is opposed to imposing immediate penalties on social services departments that have been faced with historical under funding and believes there should be an initial period of pump priming to ensure that the capacity is in place. This, it says, would give social services departments time to identify the services they need to provide before facing the penalties.

The bill, would require councils to reimburse the NHS on a daily basis when the discharge of hospital patients is delayed by social services The BMA is concerned this would place further financial pressure on already stretched local authorities.

The BMA says it supports the government’s target of eliminating widespread delayed discharge by next year but doctors feel proper funding of community care – and a multi-agency approach – are central to the solution of the bed crisis.