Delayed discharges in NHS hospitals occur when patients, often elderly, are ready to leave but do not have any arrangements made for them by social care teams. These arrangements could include installing support measures at homes such as grab rails and ramps and complicated medical equipment and providing patients with carer support or arrangements for them to be moved into care homes.
These delays are causing chaos in NHS hospitals, as many patients in need of urgent or emergency care are being turned away because hospital beds are being taken up by medically fit patients who have yet to be discharged. (Related: Why socialized medicine fails: Sooner or later you run out of other people's money to spend on healthcare.)
According to an investigation conducted by Health Service Journal (HSJ), there are nearly 13,000 hospital beds – or one in seven available hospital beds in England – filled with patients who are healthy enough for discharge.
HSJ filed Freedom of Information requests to receive information from seven NHS hospital systems and trusts. These filings found dozens of instances where patient discharges had to be delayed.
At two NHS trusts – Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Mid Cheshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – patients had to wait three months or longer before being allowed to leave.
At two other NHS trusts – North Cumbria Integrated Care Foundation Trust and Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – discharge wait times went up to at least six months for elderly patients.
And finally, at North Bristol NHS Trust in southwestern England, there were multiple patients who had to wait eight or nine months before they could be discharged.
All of the seven trusts responded to these concerns by noting that the long delays were caused by a lack of domiciliary care, while other factors included wait times for necessary medical equipment to be delivered to people's own homes.
Performance figures for the NHS in England noted that only 40 percent of patients were able to leave the hospital when they were ready in July.
On average, the HSJ noted that nearly 13,000 patients a day spent more time in hospitals than they needed to in July.
A spokesperson for North Bristol NHS Trust claimed that stays of more than 100 days "are rare" and only happen with individuals with "very complex cases" who require a lot of ongoing care outside of hospitals.
"We recognize the frustration and distress that delays cause and are focused on bringing long stays down," said the spokesperson.
Spokespersons for several NHS trusts have launched programs to improve hospital discharge times over the coming months. One trust launched its own home care agency to hire more carers to attend to patients.
The top authorities for NHS England have also launched a 100-day "discharge challenge" to encourage NHS trusts to improve discharge times where possible.
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