One in 13 hospital beds in Scotland are occupied by people who are well enough to leave, figures from the NHS have showed.
Official data for 2017-18 showed across the country 494,123 bed days were lost to delayed discharge – which occurs when people are medically ready to leave but have to wait for care arrangements to be made.
The problem cost the NHS in Scotland an “eye-watering” £125 million – an average of £234 a day. Those figures however are for 20126-17 when bed blocking was higher.
There was a 6% reduction in 2017-18, with the total of bed days lost because of delayed discharges down from 527,099 the previous year.
That meant the daily average number of beds occupied by those waiting leave dropped from 1,444 in 2016-17 to 1,354.
Last year approximately one in 13 (7.8%) of occupied beds in NHS Scotland were a result of delayed discharges.
However regional variations meant 18.9% of beds were occupied by patients waiting to leave in NHS Western Isles, while NHS Highland, NHS Lanarkshire, NHS Lothian, NHS Shetland, NHS Borders and NHS Grampian all recorded figures above the Scottish average.
Scotland’s largest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, had the lowest proportion, with 3.1% of beds being taken up by delayed discharge.
The most common reason for patients to be kept in hospital was they were waiting for care arrangements to be put in place, with this accounting for 34% of delayed discharges.
Health Secretry Jeane Freeman welcomed the overall reduction in bed blocking – pointing that this amounted to a 9% drop from 2015-16.
She stated: “We want to continue to build on this progress. That’s why it is vital that local health and social care partnerships develop a range of community based services with the key aim of keeping people healthy at home.
“The integration of health and social care will enable us to make long-term, sustainable progress to reduce the level of delayed discharge. I have already made clear that one of my main priorities as Health Secretary is to increase the pace of this reform so that more people can benefit.
“To support integration, we have transferred nearly half a billion pounds from the NHS into social care and integration in this financial year, and the health budget will increase by almost £2 billion by the end of this Parliament.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton hit out at the cost of delayed discharges and the impact it has on patients.
He said: “Earlier this year my party uncovered people stuck in hospital for up to 618 days after medical staff had declared them ready to leave. Now we know the cost of such an awful wait for just one patient could be in the region of £145,000.
“These are eye-watering sums of money for what, in this particular case and indeed the majority of cases, is an entirely avoidable problem. Most patients are waiting on a care home place, social care support to enable them to live in their own home or for an assessment to be conducted.
“The cost of delayed discharges to the NHS, patients and their families is immense. It interrupts the flow of the entire hospital, causing delays in A&E to cancelled operations.
“SNP ministers must now set out their plans for reducing avoidable delayed discharges and the progress they expect to be made tackling it over the coming months.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Miles Briggs added: “Despite all the promises, the SNP has categorically failed to eradicate delayed discharge.
“In reality, almost 10% of beds in hospitals are occupied by patients who should be cared for elsewhere.
“The real cost of this failure is to the patients who are in the wrong care settings, causing misery and uncertainty to themselves and their families.”
Labour health spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “The SNP government’s broken promise is costing Scotland hundreds of millions of pounds each year and putting our overworked NHS staff under even more pressure.
“Hundreds of patients each month are languishing unnecessarily in hospital beds when they could be receiving appropriate care at home.
“The vast majority of these patients are aged over 75. The failure to properly tackle the social care crisis and delays in care assessments – the result of the SNP government’s £1.5 billion cut to council budgets – are causing this multi-million-pound scandal.”