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A bed blocker is primarily UK, Australian and Canadian slang for a person who is ill, requiring more care than can be given in a home setting, and possibly needing long term nursing home care. According to some definitions, the bed blocker literally takes up room on purpose because the person does not wish to be sent to a nursing home. In other cases, no nursing home can take the person at present, so they are blocking up the bed for someone who requires it for more immediate or emergency care.
The term is often applied to either the elderly, who may have a variety of conditions that require monitoring, or to the very young — exceptionally premature babies who may have extended stays in the hospital and whose problems may not ever be treatable. To some, the term is pejorative and negative, suggesting that the caretakers of the young or very old are purposefully avoiding making health decisions about a child. A parent of a child with little brain function still wants that child to be viewed as a person, not as a bed blocker, which tends to dehumanize the process of medical care and the child requiring the care. The same may apply to any person who is in a chronic vegetative state or kept alive only through machines.
It’s hard not to view bed blocker as anything but a negative term. Perhaps it’s best understood as not meaning to offend when the whole situation that provokes the term is understood. Bed blocker implies two things: there are not enough beds at the hospital to care for all who need them, and there are not enough long term care facilities that have available beds or that meet the standards of the patient’s caregivers.
Another way in which bed blocker has been understood, especially in the UK, is through denial of care services toward people who are elderly. Some critics of the UK health system contend that people who are older don’t get the access to the care they need because they are viewed as potentially long term patients who will use up hospital beds that could be better used to save someone who is young or in the middle of life. This type of medicine, essentially a triage style of thinking, can enrage medical ethicists and the average person too, since it posits that some people are more important than others, and that some people are more deserving of health care than others.
In all, bed blocker falls into the terminology frequently used in hospitals to refer to patients by category, but its also become used by lay people who analyze systems of health care. There is a real problem, not just in the UK, which exists when people need long-term care that can’t be provided at home. While many long-term care facilities do their utmost to provide excellent care to patients, others do not, and it is these others that are feared by primary caregivers. The crisis has escalated to where patients are denied care to avoid long hospitalizations, or are viewed in an impersonal manner as a financial weight on the hospital, and somehow less deserving of care.