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Allied health staff are key to freeing up hospital beds

Tagged In:  Allied Health, Hospital, Nursing

With bed blocking now costing the NHS an estimated £900 million a year, it's more important than ever to acknowledge the vital role that allied health professionals have to play in solving this systemic problem.

Bed blocking is by no means a new phenomenon. However, with ever-increasing pressure on hospitals, it's an issue which is once again firmly in the spotlight for healthcare planners. An independent review earlier this year by Labour Peer Lord Carter found that nearly one in 10 beds was occupied by a patient who was medically fit to be discharged. That equates to 8,500 beds a day in acute trusts.

It's a tough nut to crack. But there's one thing pretty much everyone is agreed upon. Allied health professionals such as occupational therapists and physiotherapists are key to the solution. Their specialist expertise can speed up reablement and help ensure that patients, many of whom are elderly and vulnerable, can return home safely with appropriate support in place.

Allied Health teams can coordinate specialists from all disciplines, from Children’s Nurses to Dieticians and even Counselling Psychologists among many others to make sure patients have the care they need once discharged. 

Continuing shortages of trained professionals in some areas of the UK have hampered efforts to recruit and deploy more allied health staff. However, many trusts are successfully leveraging the skills of their OT and physiotherapy teams to address the issue of bed blocking. In 2013 Sheffield Teaching Hospital NHS Trust switched to a transformative 'discharge to assess' model for frail geriatric patients. This involves occupational therapists and physiotherapists assessing patients in their own homes instead of in hospital. In January this year, the Trust reported that, in the previous year, 9000 older patients had been discharged in an average of 1.1 days from being declared medically fit, in comparison with 5.5 days in the three years prior to that.

In June this year, Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust was awarded a top prize at the Health Service Journal's Value in Healthcare Awards for its pioneering 'Red to Green' scheme. It brings together health and social care teams to break down patient discharge barriers and inspire innovative solutions, such as weekend working by OTs and physios in A&E. The concept has been widely recognised as best practice and is being adopted by many other hospitals around the country.

Of course, it's not just about getting people out of hospital. The vital support provided by occupational therapists enables many people to avoid being admitted in the first place. "A GP will often be reactive," Dr Maggie Keeble, Clinical Lead in Proactive Care at South Worcestershire CCG, told The Guardian recently. "But they won’t necessarily be the best placed to see that if we can sort out aids and equipment at home, we can protect this person from deteriorating further. It’s not about keeping people out of hospital if they need to be there, but so often they don’t need to be in hospital."

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