NHS plea as care crisis sees 200 hospital beds 'blocked' in Cornwall

Toby Slade, the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust's (RCHT) clinical director for urgent and emergency care Credit: BPM Media.

More than 200 patients are blocking hospital beds in Cornwall, because they are unable to be discharged into the county's care sector.

A national shortage of staff working in adult social care is placing pressures on the Duchy's hospitals, with a lack of beds causing problems at the Royal Cornwall Hospital (RCH) in Truro.

The NHS in Cornwall has made a plea for relatives and carers to collect patients as soon as they are called to ease pressures on hospitals in the region.

NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is offering families a one-off discharge support grant of up to £1,200 for anyone who is ready to leave hospital, but needs a bit of extra care and support to return home. 

Kernow CCG says the grant is due to health and care facilities across the county facing 'unprecedented demand'.

A row of ambulances queuing outside of the Royal Cornwall Hospital's emergency department earlier this year.

In May, more than a dozen ambulances were seen queuing outside the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Treliske.

Three months later, the hospital said patients who could not be discharged into care or taken home were causing ambulances to queue once again.

Toby Slade, the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust's (RCHT) clinical director for urgent and emergency care, is warning the care crisis is having a direct impact on those attending the emergency department.

He says there are currently more than 100 patients in the RCH waiting for social care provision, equating to around 20% of the hospital's entire bed stock.

There are also a further 100 patients waiting for care in Cornwall's community hospitals, causing so-called 'bed-blocking'.

"That's a huge amount of capacity that's unfortunately needing to be used, which is having a direct impact on being able to admit patients from the emergency department," Mr Slade said.

But the problem is not unique to Cornwall, with the clinical director saying it's a "national situation we're seeing in Cornwall," coupled with Covid causing staff to go off sick and a rising demand from patients.

Mr Slade said, another "big challenge" for the NHS in Cornwall is "the ability to optimise the use of hospital beds because of poor flow back into the community."

'The quicker we get someone home, the quicker we can give the bed to a sick patient'

And a direct plea to loved ones of patients has now been issued.

The RCHT's medical director, Dr Allister Grant said: "Please pick up friends or relatives as soon as we ask you to collect them.

"We know people are busy with work, childcare, or other commitments, and it may not be convenient to collect their loved one from hospital when we call, but the quicker we can get someone home, the quicker we can give the bed to another person who really needs it."

Speaking to ITV News West Country, Dr Grant added: "If we can get some of our relatives to come and pick up our patients thirty minutes, an hour, four hours earlier - it potentially means that we can get a patient off the back of an ambulance, thirty minutes to four hours earlier than we would do.

Dr Allister Grant said people collecting their relatives could lead to patients in A&E being seen several hours earlier. Credit: ITV News West Country.

"And that can be a really important time for people to be properly assessed.

As of Tuesday 12 October, 284 people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly were waiting for their care package to be arranged, according to the Trust.

It is hoped the grant of more than £1,000 being offered will see more patients discharged.

The trust says the money can be spent on "paying for someone to help with their washing, cleaning, and shopping", or used to buy "equipment to help people retain their independence and avoid being readmitted to hospital."

Cornwall Council statement

Cornwall Council is responsible for adult social care in the county and has responded to growing concerns from healthcare professionals.

A spokesperson said: "The pandemic has generated many challenges for health and adult social care on top of the existing challenges of providing care in rural areas, and like many other regions across the UK, demand for care in Cornwall is outstripping supply.

"We are working hard as a health and adult social care system to further develop our discharge to assess services and invest in more reablement services which will help reduce the long-term demand for home care.

"As demand for care in Cornwall has risen over the past year, we have expanded our provision, especially in home care, and we now support 2,743 of our service users with home care packages.

"This is an increase from 2,163 who were supported in April 2020 before the pandemic."

The council spokesperson added: "Our care sector faces ongoing pressures to recruit and retain staff. We are continuing our drive to attract more people to join or re-join the care sector through a range of initiatives, including the Proud to Care recruitment campaign.

"Together with NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group we have set a contractual requirement for our care providers to pay the Foundation Living Wage and we have seen providers reset their hourly pay rates to that level and beyond to ensure they can recruit and retain staff.

"For all urgent or critical support needs, we provide temporary or bridging care."

NHS advice: How to ease pressures on Cornwall's health service

Dr Grant says people can help by continuing to "use the appropriate service" and only calling 999 or visiting A&E in a " genuine life-threatening emergency", such as a heart attack, suspected stroke or breathing difficulties.

Instead, people should call their GP if they need urgent advice or speak to NHS 111 if the surgery is closed.

"NHS 111 can also help if you think you need to visit a minor injury unit to treat broken bones, burns and bites," Dr Grant added.

Other ways to help include:

  • Using your pharmacist for minor conditions such as coughs, colds, ear aches and rashes

  • Using NHS 111 - online or by phone

  • Getting fully vaccinated against Covid-19

  • Staying away from hospitals if you have coronavirus symptoms, vomiting or diarrhoea