Moray councillors have backed radical plans to tackle the bed-blocking crisis plaguing hospitals across the country.
Members of the local authority have cleared the way for a row of rundown cottages to be transformed into temporary care accommodation.
The idea is that the properties in Elgin will provide a “halfway house” between hospital and home for the region’s older people
Earlier this year, NHS Grampian revealed that bed-blocking figures in the health board area were at their highest since records began in January 2011.
In March, the health board cited a lack of local authority care packages as a contributing factor in patients remaining in hospital for longer than they should.
The Moray Council plan is aimed at freeing-up hospital beds and ensuring older people return to their own homes faster following illness.
The proposals to transform the vacant Jubilee Cottages in Elgin’s Victoria Road into temporary accommodation were backed by the council’s health and social care services committee.
Under the scheme, older people who may otherwise have remained in hospital until they were able to return home will be eased back into a life of independence in a specially-converted complex.
Carers at the venue would watch over its occupants until they were considered ready to return to their own homes.
An NHS Grampian spokeswoman yesterday welcomed the move, and applauded Moray’s hospitals for having the lowest instances of bed-blocking in the region.
Delayed discharges happen when patients are ready to leave hospital but the necessary care, support and accommodation arrangements are not yet in place.
Councillors carried out a site visit to the six cottages last month, and although concerns were raised about the size of the properties and whether they could be put to better use elsewhere, the plans were unanimously supported.
Heldon and Laich councillor Allan Wright said: “I thought the cottages were slightly small, but if our people in occupational therapy say they are fit for purpose then that is fine by me.
“These plans will provide a halfway house for people and will allow our staff to better judge when patients are able to return to their own homes.
“Some other councils use care homes to provide this sort of housing, and that can be very distressing for patients who fear they may have to remain there indefinitely.”
Speyside and Glenlivet councillor Fiona Murdoch suggested Jubilee Cottages could help ease the council’s housing burden if they converted into permanent accommodation.
But Moray Council’s occupational therapy manager, Lesley Attridge, explained the properties no longer met the criteria to qualify for use as housing.
She said: “These houses will never come back into housing use, they are not deemed as suitable long-term tenancy properties – but they are absolutely suitable for the purpose we are looking at.
“They are small, but they meet our needs and it’s preferable that we capitalise on existing property.”
Officers will now seek a contract from the council’s policy and resources committee to allow them to take over the site and a report detailing the costs involved will be compiled before any decisions are made.