The number of patients suffering delayed discharge from hospital has hit record levels, according to the latest figures from NHS England.
The figures highlight a sharp rise of 25% in the number of people waiting to be discharged from hospital compared to this time last year.
Commenting on the Combined Performance Summary from NHS England, Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Nigel Edwards, said: “The figures show the highest number of patients on record staying in hospital when they shouldn’t have to because there are no proper arrangements for them to leave.
“Only two days ago, the head of the NHS Simon Stevens warned that this problem would continue for another five years – research we published in the winter showed that even though long-staying patients last year made up only 3.6% of the total, they accounted for over a third of total bed capacity, so addressing this issue must be a priority for the Health Service”.
John Appleby, Chief Economist at The King’s Fund, added: “The figures show the NHS struggling to meet many of its key performance targets in the face of rising demand and huge financial pressures. At a time of year when we should be seeing performance figures starting to fall back in line with targets, instead we see a worrying picture of the extreme pressure hospitals are under.”
On the delayed discharge figures, he added: “While this reflects a significant increase in the number of patients waiting for social care support, the majority of delays are caused by NHS related problems. As the National Audit Office reported last week delayed discharges are costing the NHS in excess of £800 million a year but more importantly impose a significant human cost on patients and their families.”
On the positive side, the figures revealed the number of patients waiting over 4 hours to be admitted to hospital from emergency departments (so-called ‘trolley waits’) has fallen compared to March.
However, this is expected at this time of year due to improving weather, and the April figure is still 38% higher than a year ago.
Edwards said: “The increase in the proportion of A&E patients being admitted or discharged within four hours reflects hard work by NHS staff, and looks like a welcome sign of recovery as we leave winter. However, our research recently showed the traditional summer respite for the NHS is starting to disappear, so we should expect to see pressure continuing all the year round.”
Appleby added: “A&E departments continue to breach the maximum four-hour wait. And though There are also 3.8 million people waiting for an operation, the highest since 2007, the key cancer target – 62 days from GP referral to first treatment – continues to be missed and the proportion of patients still waiting for a planned hospital admission after 18 weeks also remains above target.”
Further reaction from the sector:
Stephen Dalton, Interim Chief Executive, NHS Confederation, said: “The NHS is straining to deliver a high standard of care in the face of huge financial and demand pressures.
“These performance figures should be a trigger to accelerate efforts to transform care, rather than to heap more pressure on the NHS as a whole. Improving care and the performance of our NHS will only be delivered through local and inclusive health and care partnerships, including with the communities we serve.
“This is an urgent call to Government to quicken the pace and enable NHS and Local Authority leaders to work together to transform health and care services. The needs of people have changed and demand continues to outstrip resource. Unless we break the cycle, we will continue to see performance results that expose the problem, not offer any solutions.”
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Continuous cuts to social care budgets are the reason why many people have to stay longer in hospital than they should.
“The problem is getting worse, not better. Already this year there have been 92,000 more days of hold-ups than there were in the previous year.
“The government must see that the UK needs more care provision as people are living longer and have increasingly complex needs.
“Hospitals are constantly hamstrung because they can’t discharge patients where no care exists in the community. Without further investment the problem will get worse and patients will be left in limbo not knowing when they might get out of hospital.”