NHS figures have highlighted the problem of delays in discharging patients from hospitals.
Last month, the number of days “lost” by patients who needed beds was the highest for more than three years.
Senior doctors working in accident and emergency departments say it is a major cause for concern. The problem facing hospitals is making sure patients who are fit to leave hospital can recover in the right place, as well as ensuring their beds are made available to those who need them.
NHS England said although there was a problem, it was being tackled by care working groups. Figures from NHS England show the number of hospital bed days lost because of delayed discharges in October was 78,424. In a statement, NHS England said it was very aware of the pressures hospitals faced when they could not discharge patients, “across the country we have urgent care working groups set up so the whole health and social care system is pulling together to tackle these important issues. The extra £150 million that we have just released will help. We need to get every penny we can working hard for patients”.
Dr Clifford Mann from the College of Emergency Medicine said that “these figures are a cause for concern. The delays are a key cause of overcrowding in emergency departments, which is associated with higher mortality”.
The figures also indicate that organising appropriate social care so that patients can be discharged home or to a care home safely is a growing problem.
Labour Shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham said the figures exposed the intense pressure faced by hospitals in England. He said, “David Cameron’s severe cuts to older people’s home care services have left people without adequate support and at risk of hospitalisation. Once admitted, a growing number are trapped on wards because they can’t be discharged“.
A Department of Health spokesperson said in an average week, NHS hospitals in England admitted a quarter of a million patients and in that context the number of delays was very low. He said that no patients should experience unnecessary delays, “we know hospitals need to join up better with social care and community services and are investing £3.8 billion in making this happen”.