Patients ‘stranded’ in hospitals for weeks
RISING numbers of elderly patients are being “stranded” in hospital for more than three weeks amid a growing social care crisis, an investigation reveals.
Last year Simon Stevens, the NHS chief executive, pledged to bring an end to the “long stay” culture on the wards, promising quicker assessments and more support at home for those who are well enough to be discharged. Health officials warned that 10 days in a hospital bed could mean pensioners “aged” by a decade, in terms of lost muscle mass.
Every NHS trust was set targets to reduce such stays – defined as “superstranded” cases – as part of efforts to reduce pressures on hospitals. But new research shows that 87 per cent of trusts have missed their targets – with the number of patients enduring long stays rising since the promise was made. Experts said the use of hospitals as long-stay institutions was fuelling record numbers of cancelled operations. In the first quarter of this year, 19,969 procedures were cancelled at the last minute, for non-clinical reasons – a rise of 28 per cent in five years.
The analysis reveals that four in five of such cancellations during 2018-19 occured at trusts which had missed targets to cut long stays. It comes after an
investigation by The Daily Telegraph revealed soaring numbers of patients were suffering repeat cancellations.
In total, 330,826 patients endured three-week stays in hospitals during the last financial year, Freedom of Information disclosures reveal.
Analysis by CHS Healthcare, which provides hospital discharge services, shows that 114 of 130 NHS trusts have failed to meet long-stay targets.
Last June, health officials pledged to release at least 4,000 hospital beds by assessing patients more quickly and ensuring the right help was available in their own homes, or in care homes.
Since then, the number of patients on wards for at least three weeks has risen with 28,425 such cases in March 2019 – up from 26,890 June 2018.
It comes amid a deepening social care crisis, which Boris Johnson has pledged to fix, and follows warnings of mounting chaos across the NHS, with hundreds of patients seeing appointments cancelled at least 10 times. Almost 1,000 dementia patients are being admitted to hospital as emergency cases every day, often because of a lack of help at home. The number of cases has risen by a third in four years, official NHS figures show.
Half of pensioners who went to their local council in search of help were refused it, annual statistics show.
And this month a Telegraph investigation revealed record numbers of elderly people suffering from malnutrition. The figures have tripled in the past decade, with most cases only diagnosed after pensioners were admitted to hospital for other reasons.
An NHS spokesman said: “Thanks to NHS staff, tens of thousands more people were able to avoid a long stay last winter than the previous year, freeing up almost 2,200 beds – the equivalent of building five extra hospitals.
“We have launched an ambitious campaign to ensure all patients benefit from the shortest possible stay, getting home as soon as they are fit to leave with the support they need.”