Watchdog reveals £820m cost of delayed hospital discharges for elderly

Posted On: 
25th May 2016

Keeping older patients in hospital who do not need to be there is wasting the NHS £820m a year and 2.7 million bed days, an official watchdog has said.

The National Audit Office estimates 2.7 million bed days in hospitals are wasted by keeping elderly patients in unnecessarily
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The National Audit Office (NAO) said there were “far too many older people in hospitals who do not need to be there”.

In a new report the NAO warns that unnecessarily long stays in hospital can do more damage to older patients’ health.

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It says some efforts to tackle the issue have been made but a “step change” is needed in the face of an ageing population and more older people being admitted to hospital.

Official figures show an increase of 270,000 days over the past two years in which hospital beds have been occupied by patients over 65 who should have been discharged - totalling 1.5 million.

But the NAO said the figure could be as high as 2.7 million if all patients no longer benefiting from acute care are accounted for, rather than just those officially deemed ready for discharge by medics.

The watchdog added that a lack of staff in the health and social care system, failures in the sharing of patient information and no incentive to receive patients into the care system quickly were all adding to the issue.

It said the NHS stood to save £820m through tackling the problem - although the figure would be offset by costs of about £180m being transferred to other parts of the health and social care system.

NAO head Amyas Morse said: “The number of delayed transfers has been increasing at an alarming rate but does not capture the true extent of older people who should not be in hospital.

“While there is a clear awareness of the need to discharge older people from hospital sooner, there are currently far too many older people in hospitals who do not need to be there.

“Without radical action, this problem will worsen and add further strain to the financial sustainability of the NHS and local government.”

Councillor Izzi Seccombe of the Local Government Association said: “What is clear is that this is no longer just a winter pressure but is now a whole year challenge to ensure that the entire health and social care system is able to cope with the increased demand on the NHS.

"Getting people out of hospital more quickly and back living at home will only work properly if councils get enough resource throughout the whole year to properly fund adequate provision of care services.”

Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Independent Age, said: "This is an inevitable consequence of a short-sighted policy of protecting health spending while slashing social care budgets. Lack of care and support at home means frail and elderly people stuck in hospital beds, not 'bed blockers' but trapped by systemic failure in health and care. 

"And while a growing older population adds to the pressure, it can't account for a 31% jump in hospital beds days lost in just two years. The NHS itself can only do so much; we need the Government to confront the issue of the future of health and social care funding head on."