MORE than 50 patients a day are being treated in inappropriate areas in a health board’s hospitals due to pressure over beds.
Figures released recently show how common the practice of “boarding” in hospitals in NHS Lothian, the health board slammed for manipulating waiting list figures, has become.
“Boarding” refers to placing patients in areas which are not best-suited to their needs, which the Scotland Patients Association said had become a “huge problem.”
At the Royal Infirmary and the Western General in Edinburgh and St John’s Hospital in West Lothian with the latest figures showing patients spent the equivalent of 1522 days in the wrong areas in one month.
Health Secretary Alex Neil has promised action and announced a plan to tackle the problem.
Dr Jean Turner, director of the Scotland Patients Association, said the fact hospitals like the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh were too small meant hospitals had to resort to boarding.
Describing the issue as a “huge problem”, she said: “People are being taken into hospitals and can end up in three or four different places.
“That’s no good for patients or the doctors and nurses looking after them.
“If patients are in the same place being seen by the same doctors rather than being shifted around different wards things are picked up which might otherwise have been missed.
“Continuity of care is extremely important.”
In September, patients spent 564 days being boarding in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which is coming under increasing pressure with winter illnesses.
At the Western General Hospital, patients spent 438 days being boarded and at St John’s in Livingston, patients were boarded for 520 days.
Experts warn boarding can have a serious impact on patients, as it can increase the length of time they spent in hospitals and the chances of complication developing.
It is believed boarded patients have a higher mortality rate than patients in the correct units.
A plan by NHS Scotland and the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE), which is to be rolled out across Scotland, has identified nine areas to tackle boarding.
These include ensuring there is an adequate number of beds, that correct numbers of consultants and nurses are in post, reviewing patients daily and reducing delayed discharges.
Health Secretary Alex Neil said: “Moving patients from one ward to another when they don’t need to be moved can delay their treatment and even cause medical problems – that’s not good for patients and it puts a greater burden on our NHS.
“We need to ensure that NHS Boards’ have world class planning for the number and type of beds, nurses and consultants that are needed – so that the need to move patients unnecessarily is reduced.
“Scotland is the first country in the UK to deal with the issue of boarding and I am sure that it will further improve the quality of care in our hospitals.”
Dr Neil Dewhurst, President of the RCPE, said: “The RCPE is deeply concerned about boarding. This results in poorer quality patient care and increases the pressure on medical teams.”
Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, said: “We assess our figures on a daily basis and have put in place a number of measures to tackle the issue including, opening additional wards at the Royal Victoria Hospital, recruiting extra medical staff and introducing a new patient assessment system at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
“We are also currently undertaking a review of unscheduled care and this will, amongst other things, move to address the issues around boarding within our hospitals.
“We work hard to ensure that more vulnerable patients, including older people and those with dementia, are not moved unless it is absolutely necessary.”
Last month, NHS Lothian brought in hundreds more staff and received millions of pounds of extra funding to help clear a backlog of patients on waiting lists.
Bosses of the health board have vowed to restore its reputation after a year which saw the organisation hit by damning reports on staff bullying and the manipulation of waiting times.