Home care delays prompt fears over service privatisation plans

concerns have been expressed about a cash-starved council's plans to privatise more of its social care network for elderly residents after it emerged more than 1,000 hospital bed days are being lost each year because of severe delays in the home care system.

The figures on delayed discharges at York District Hospital revealed that last year 1,105 bed days were lost because 91 patients were kept in them longer than they should while their home care package was arranged.

In 2005 just four patients took up a total of 19 bed days, but this leapt from 192 bed days lost in 2008 to 612 in 2009.

Critics say the rise in numbers is a direct result of a council decision to part-privatise its long-term home care service in 2006.

But council chiefs claim it is due to a number of factors including the rising elderly population in York.

Coun Sandy Fraser obtained the figures in his capacity as York Council governor of York Hospitals Foundation Trust.

He presented them at a crunch meeting on Monday to decide whether to move ahead with proposals to outsource the council's reablement service, which helps residents reduce their dependency on long-term home care by learning and regaining skills.

Coun Fraser said: "These are shocking figures and demonstrates that the privatisation of long-term home care that was carried out in 2006 was botched.

"And I don't think they can give any guarantees that they won't botch the privatisation of this next part of the reablement service as well.

"The big issue is it costs a lot more to keep someone in hospital than to send them home with social care and also this means that these beds will be lost to other patients who should have been admitted to hospital and may well be on waiting lists.

"There is a financial cost and a cost in terms of how effectively you can get people using the beds.

"I raised this at the meeting but they were saying they had to privatise the care service because the private sector could provide it cheaper to cope with an increase in demand over the next few years."

Monday night's meeting was held following a decision by York Council's executive last month to agree to outsource its reablement service in a move aimed at saving 696,000 in its first year and 1.25m a year afterwards while allowing the service to be enhanced without imposing extra costs for taxpayers.

It was "called in" by Labour councillors for further discussion at Monday's scrutiny management committee meeting, but despite appeals, it was agreed to push ahead with the controversial plans.

Speaking yesterday the deputy chief executive of York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Mike Proctor, said: "Clearly we would like to see fewer patients delayed in hospital beds, whatever the reason.

"York Council has been working hard to improve the situation, and we would hope to see the figures reduce as a result.

"When the reablement service is put out to tender it may not necessarily be taken into the private sector, it is possible that another public sector provider may take on the service."

York Council's director of adult social services, Pete Dwyer, added: "Avoiding increases in delayed discharge requires a range of actions across the health and social care partnership.

"From a local authority perspective we work well with the local hospital to facilitate speedy discharge.

"Given the changing demographic trend with higher numbers of older people, we clearly now have to increase further the level of support to people in the community.

"The proposal to explore outsourcing reablement and therefore achieve a potential doubling of the size of the service would make a significant contribution to that work."