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‘Alarming’ increase in delayed transfers of elderly patients

Delayed transfer figures for elderly patients have been underestimating the true scale of the problem, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned in a new report.

Official figures show that delayed transfers have increased by 31% in the past two years, from 0.87 million days in 2013 to 1.15 million days in 2015.

However, the NAO said that this figure applies only to delays that occur once a patient is considered ready for discharge by doctors. Factoring in all delays that patients experience, the total amount is closer to 2.7 million days, of which approximately 85% happen to patients aged over 85.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, 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.”

The figures also show that in 2010-15 the average length of stay for elderly patients decreased from 12.9 to 11.9 days, but the overall number of bed days increased from 17.8 million to 19.4 million.

The NAO also found that although increasing funding to social care services for elderly patients after discharge from hospital could cost £180m a year, the current cost of delayed discharges to the NHS is £820m.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, the LGA’s community wellbeing spokesperson, 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. Councils are absolutely committed to reducing the level of delayed transfers of care from the NHS and in the vast majority of areas are working with their local health partners to help reduce pressures on the NHS.”

She repeated the LGA’s calls for money from the Better Care Fund to be brought forward in order to relieve pressures on the social care system.


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