Delays in people leaving hospital in England could be costing an average of £395 per night, according to researchers at a health think tank.
The direct costs of delayed discharges – where patients are considered medically fit to leave hospital – is estimated to be around £1.89 billion for the past financial year, the King's Fund said. This estimate does not count extra costs, including cancelled operations or staff time spent arranging care packages.
Ambulance handover delays are often linked to a shortage of space caused by people who no longer need to be in hospital beds.
The most recent PA analysis of NHS figures showed an average of 13,300 beds per day in the week to March 26 were filled by people ready to be discharged, compared with 12,643 at that point last year. Overall, 42% of medically fit patients in England were discharged, though the rate varied between regions, from 31% in the North West to 52% in eastern England.
Knock-On Effect of Delayed Discharges
King's Fund senior analyst David Maguire said the costs to the NHS "provide an indication of sub-optimal use of resources that should be deployed in other ways". Writing in a blog, he said delays were rising at a time when the NHS is "pushing harder than ever to find cost savings".
"There is no official estimate of the direct costs of these delays (staff time spent on additional NHS care and overheads from an overnight stay), but we have estimated one by uplifting the last estimate (from 2017/18) by inflation to produce an estimate of £395 per night," he wrote.
He said such delays have knock-on effects, including making it harder for patients to be admitted to wards from A&E and for people on elective waiting lists to be treated, therefore increasing waiting times. He added: "These delays can also be harmful, particularly for older patients for whom a delay of even two days has been shown to negate the benefits of intermediate care."
Mr Maguire said it is difficult to tell "if the problems are with arranging care packages for patients or with arranging assessments of patient need at discharge, for example". He questioned how effective "short-term pots of money" from the Government will be in tackling the social care workforce crisis, and in turn improving the sector's ability to assist with discharging people from hospital.
He added that people should "not slip into a sole focus on social care", citing other problems such as housing issues which could be contributing to delayed discharges.
"Can the NHS work with partners in local government, housing associations and voluntary and community sector organisations to make a significant difference to operational pressures and financial bottom lines?," he asked. "Short-term actions might offer a chance to forge connections with valuable partners that could pay off even more in the long term."
This article contains information from PA Media