THE number of people stuck in Scottish hospitals despite being well enough to leave has risen again, straining the NHS as it braces for an influx of coronavirus patients.

The latest official figures show there were 47,529 bed days lost to delayed discharges in January this year, up 5 per cent on December, and 8% up on January 2019.

It was the highest number of days lost to bed blocking since October 2016.

READ MORE: Coronavirus could restrict movement of people in Scotland

The number of people involved was also at its highest since July 2016, at 1,640.

This was 19% up on December and 11% up on the same sample point n January 2019.

Of those needlessly occupying hospital beds in January this year, 1,308 were delayed for three days or more.

Health and social care reasons accounted for 995 delays (76%), complex needs accounting for 281 delays (21%) and patient and family-related reasons for 32 delays (2%).

In February 2015, then SNP Health Secretary Shona Robison said she wanted to “eradicate delayed discharge out of the system” that year but failed to do so.

It has remained a stubborn problem ever since.

Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood yesterday warned up to 80% of Scotland’s population could be affected by coronavirus, 4% of whom could be hospitalised.

This would be around 170,000 people, although not all would need care at the same time.

It would put unprecedented strain on Scotland’s hospitals, which have 13,000 beds, and normally receive less than 600,000 emergency admissions in the course of a whole year.

The UK Government today published the co-ordinated four nations plan for responding to the COVID-19 virus.

READ MORE: Coronavirus in Scotland: UK cases of COVID-19 virus climb 

It said up to a fifth of the workforce could be off sick during the peak of an epidemic in the UK.

The police may need to focus on the most serious crimes and maintaining public order if the virus spreads.

The military could also provide support to emergency services if needed.

Labour MSP Monica Lennon said: “Time and time again the SNP has promised to end delayed discharge and yet the numbers of patients stuck in hospital is continuing to increase.

“Delayed discharge is very distressing for patients and their families and is putting the NHS under serious pressure.

“It is deeply disappointing that the SNP has failed to provide social care with the funding it needs to tackle delayed discharge at this year’s budget.”

LibDem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton added: There shouldn’t be a record number of people stuck in hospital because of avoidable health and social care delays.

“No one wants to be stuck in hospital when they are well enough to return home or be cared for in the community. People can be stranded there for months after medical staff have declared them well enough to leave.

“We are seeing this bottleneck because too often community care just doesn’t exist, causing hospitals to become congested right up to critical care units.

“The SNP promised to eradicate this problem years ago, but now we see it is actually worse than ever. It’s time to end the social care scandal.

"The Scottish Government’s new workforce plan, published a whole year late, must now make demonstrable progress.”  

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “NHS Scotland and the Scottish Government have been specifically preparing for the possibility of a wider outbreak of coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak in Wuhan. 

"This is outlined in the Action Plan published by the four nations which highlights that the chief focus will be to provide essential services, helping those most at risk to access the right treatment.

“As part of our on-going efforts to ensure patients don’t spend any longer in hospital than needed once treatment is complete.

"We have increased our package of investment in social care and integration by 14% to £811m in the 2020/21 budget to make sure health and social care services are fully joined up for patients. 

"This investment will build still further on a 29% increase on spending in this area this current year compared to last year and we will work directly with COSLA and Scotland’s local authorities to tackle these delays in care.

“We will continue to work closely with NHS Scotland as well as the UK Government, Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive as part of a coordinated response to coronavirus.”