A woman lies in a hospital bed

Many patients are fit to leave hospital – but they can’t. Why? Because the right care and support isn’t available for them at home. They find themselves trapped in hospital beds – beds that are needed for new patients.

These people are commonly known as ‘bed-blockers’ – as if they themselves are the problem.

According to BBC analysis of NHS figures released today, more than one in 10 patients in England face long delays for a hospital bed after emergency admission.*

This is an issue. But let’s be clear – it is almost always never the fault of the patient. These delays are caused by pressure on health services and a lack of investment in care services for adults.

Last year the British Red Cross helped 31,000 people get home from hospital safely. Including patients like Raymond and Derek.

We know the people we help don’t want to stay in hospital when they don’t need to. So here are three truths about the patients still waiting to leave hospital.


Delays in sending people home are almost never the fault of the patient. The reason their discharge is delayed is usually because the care or support they need post-hospital is not in place.

This is often beyond a patient’s control. It may be that their paperwork is still being processed or the local authority is still working to organise the next stage of their care. They end up stuck in hospital with very little they can do about it.

As Mike Adamson our chief executive said:

“No one chooses to be stuck on a hospital bed when they could be in their own homes, rebuilding their lives.

“However, without the proper care to return home with the extra help and support they need to live independently, thousands of patients will continue to be stuck in limbo.”


It’s reported that 85 per cent of those who experience these delays are elderly. This raises questions about the care services available for the UK’s ageing population.

From 2009 to 2013, the number of people receiving publicly funded social care fell by 26 per cent. That means almost half a million older and disabled people who would have received social care in 2009, weren’t receiving it in 2013.

“We know budgets are tight, but failing to adequately fund prevention and social care is a false economy,” Mike added.


Demands on services continue to grow. Funding for new services fails to keep pace. So things need to be done differently to address the gap in care. If not, delays for patients may continue.

Our research also shows that preventative services are not receiving enough investment either – despite the potential to ease some of this pressure.

*This blog was updated on 7 December 2016