Growing pressure on specialist facilities is affecting hospitals across Scotland, with seriously ill patients regularly being ‘boarded out’ to general wards.
A lack of specialist hospital beds and consultants is putting patients at risk, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh has warned.
The College’s survey found that two-thirds of hospital consultants said boarding was increasingly prevalent, while nearly all said it was harmful to patients.
Over the last decade, the average patient throughput per acute hospital bed in Scotland rose from 45 to 56 per year, while the number of acute hospital beds fell from 18,000 to 16,700 and the consultant workforce remained static.
Boarding out of patients from specialist wards used only to happen in winter, the College said, but is now the norm throughout the year.
The College’s President, Neil Dewhurst, commented: “Boarding creates a vicious circle, delaying treatment and discharge for patients and adding considerably to the workload of the healthcare teams caring for them.”
The Scottish Health Department, which has asked health boards to report on winter boarding levels since 2009, said it took the new findings very seriously.
“Boarding has always been recognised as poor practice, but now in the work that has been driven by the Scottish government we have the potential to measure the adverse impact on the quality of care, patient experience, and costs,” said Derek Bell, Professor of Acute Medicine at Imperial College London.
“As the boarding problem exists across the healthcare system, it requires whole-system solutions.”