Northern Ireland

'Please work with us' - Belfast trust health workers urge patients to free up hospital beds

Health workers in the Belfast trust appeared in a video urging patients to work with them on freeing up hospital beds.
Health workers in the Belfast trust appeared in a video urging patients to work with them on freeing up hospital beds.

BELFAST health trust has renewed a plea for medically fit patients to leave hospitals even if their first choice of community care is not available.

A video message featuring several health workers was released yesterday, with a statement also seeking to reassure families their loved ones would not be disadvantaged if they accepted a second-choice option.

Before Christmas, all health trusts introduced a new measure to discharge medically fit patients within 48 hours to ease pressures on emergency care.

A Belfast trust spokesperson called on patients and their families to “work with us” to leave hospital within 48 hours of being declared medically fit to do so.

“We know that this may require moving to the first available space at a care home whilst they await a complete care package to enable a move home or while they await a place in their preferred care home,” they said.

Addressing concerns that some patients could end up stranded in a second-choice care option, the spokesperson added: “We would assure all patients in this situation that if their first choice place is not available there will be no financial cost to them for this interim arrangement and it will not impact their place on any waiting list for their longer-term care.”

They also warned that prolonged stays in hospitals carried risk, with some patients developing a hospital-acquired infection and risk losing their mobility and independence.

With emergency departments regularly reporting extreme pressure over recent weeks, the Belfast trust also thanked staff for delivering “the highest possible level of care in extraordinarily challenging circumstances.”

Pauline Shepherd, chief executive of Independent Health and Care Providers (ICHP), told the BBC yesterday that recent efforts to speed up hospital discharges had improved but were not a long-term solution.

"What I'm gathering from our members is that yes, there have been care beds utilised and there's capacity being used,” she said.

"However, there are still pockets of capacity available."

She said communication between hospitals and home care providers had improved over Christmas, but matching patients with suitable care homes remained a “logistical nightmare”.

"The only thing that will solve it is actually to look at a long-term funding plan and a health and social care system that reflects demographic change and is capable of meeting the rising demands.”

This week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer both delivered key note speeches which included their plans to save the NHS.

Mr Sunak asked the public to judge him if waiting lists did not fall before the next general election in two years.

Promising “urgent action” and increased NHS funding, he said the government was increasing bed capacity with extra money used to move people into social care or care in the community.

He has also pledged to introduce anti-strike legislation within weeks, as further strikes from nurses and rail workers in England are planned for this month.

Sir Keir said a Labour government would properly fund the NHS, but “chasing extra demand with more money” or simply “re-shuffling the furniture” was not enough.

With an ageing population, he proposed shifting the NHS away from emergency care towards prevention and increased spending on mental health services.

He added that he would repeal any anti-strike legislation brought in by the Conservatives.