A winter care crisis has now stretched throughout the year as patients in Yorkshire have been stuck in hospital for up to five months despite being declared fit to go home, even in the spring and summer.
The delay in discharging patients from hospital, also known as bed blocking, is now forcing NHS chiefs to make tough choices to help provide services which are already under intense pressures, medical experts have warned. And, as an investigation shows that in some areas the issue peaked in May, experts say unnecessary delays are no longer just a seasonal crisis.
“In many areas, winter pressures never really went away,” said Phillippa Hentsch, head of analysis at trade association NHS Providers. “As we come to the end of summer, urgent decisions have to be made to ensure hospitals, and local health and care systems, have the beds and staff in place to cope with what is widely expected to be a busy winter period.”
The latest official figures for July show there has been a slight improvement of 1.5 per cent in the number of days lost to bed-blocking in England in the past year. Of the delays, more than half were attributable to the NHS, the data revealed, while a third were attributed to social care issues.
But the nine hospital trusts in the region which responded to Freedom of Information requests admitted 3,365 patients had experienced delays in the first six months of the year, with many waiting for between three and five months.
The Mid Yorkshire Hospital NHS Trust revealed 1,899 patients had experienced delays between January and June with one person waiting 120 days to be discharged. The highest number was in May, when 387 patients were affected.
Among the issues identified by hospital trusts as reasons why patients could not be safely discharged were a shortage of social care packages, nursing and residential beds, as well as family choice.
It comes after the Royal College of Surgeons warned earlier this month the NHS could face a ‘winter of woe’ unless both hospitals and local authorities tackle the on-going issue, with bed-blocking creating logjams and treatment delays.
The NHS has stressed that action has been taken to tackle delayed transfers of care, with the number of people affected in the north of England falling between March and July.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “No one should have to stay in a hospital bed longer than necessary and both the NHS and local authorities have set ambitious targets to tackle this issue. We have already provided an additional £2bn for social care and we are committed to consulting widely on how to improve the social care system and put it on a more secure financial footing for the future.”