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UK Dementia Congress 2020

11 Nov 2020

Bournemouth

Beds are for not for living in

By guest blogger JEF SMITH

On a recent visit to our municipal dump – OK, recycling centre if you insist, but see below – I got into conversation with a man who was disposing of a bed. “It’s a perfectly good bed’” he insisted, “but no-one wants it.” Even local charities he’d offered it to seem to have a surplus of beds, so all his attempts to recycle had ended up with simply dumping. “Why not try the NHS?” I suggested, “they’re always complaining of a shortage of beds.” Of course ‘bed’ in a health context implies much more than the thing you lie on; it includes space, appropriate equipment, medicines and, most of all, staff.

One of the reasons for the shortage of hospital beds is of course the phenomenon we are supposed to call ‘delayed transfers of care’. Faced with such a euphemistic mouthful, it’s no wonder that much of the press are still using the theoretically outlawed ‘bed blockers’; the more responsible papers have the decency to put the term in inverted commas, but that doesn’t actually help much. The reason ‘bed blockers’ is so offensive is that it implies that blame attaches to the – usually reluctant and mostly elderly – bed occupants. In reality they are unwillingly trapped in highly unsuitable and expensive hospitals while awaiting difficult-to-access social care services. Everybody knows that care in the community would provide much more appropriate support and an inestimably better standard of life, but this objective gets lost in organisational unjoinedupness.

The coronavirus crisis adds urgency to the issue of the inappropriate use of hospital beds, but ironically, at least in the short term, it is likely to draw political attention away from the structural problems of social care (non) provision. Meanwhile, as we wait for Mr Hancock’s vague cross-party trawl for ideas to yield actual proposals – a very slight hope – it would help to have a respectful but snappy alternative to ‘bed blockers’. Since the people in the much needed beds are unhappy victims of the government’s snaillike progress on care funding, how about ‘hospital hostages’?

While on the subject of beds, why do social care providers and commissioners slavishly follow their health service colleagues in calling their places ‘beds’? A bed suggests a sick and horizontal occupant, waiting for something to be done to them, the very antithesis of the active, engaged lifestyle good care homes offer. Let’s have an end to ‘bed blocking’, but while we’re about it – except of course for sleeping and making love – let’s get rid of ‘beds’ as well.

  • The CT Blog is written in a personal capacity – comments and opinions expressed are not necessarily endorsed or supported by Caring Times.

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