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Delayed discharge costs almost £1bn a year, government auditors find

The NHS is wasting almost a billion pounds a year from keeping older patients in hospital when on clinical grounds they should have been discharged, a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.

The report said pressures on social care budgets and staffing meant patients could not be safely discharged, causing the delays, but that the equivalent cost of caring for these people in the community instead would be just around £180m a year.

It said this meant the health and social care system’s management of discharging older patients from hospital is poor value for taxpayers’ money.

GPs have been under pressure from problems with the process of discharging patients from hospital.

The GPC’s Urgent Prescription for General Practice, published last month, called for CCGs to commission ‘rapid response teams’ to support early discharge of patients and help ’avoid inappropriate demands on GPs’.

The GPC also wants hospitals to ‘directly arrange community nursing, rehabilitation or social support in the community for patients being discharged from hospital’.

The NAO’s report said: ’While there is a clear awareness of the need to discharge older people from hospital sooner, both at national and local level, there are currently far too many older people in hospitals who do not need to be there, at an estimated cost to the NHS of around £820 million.

’Without radical action to improve local practice and remove national barriers, this problem will get worse and add further strain to the financial sustainability of the NHS. Given the increase in delays and limited progress in reducing barriers to further improvements, performance does not represent value for money.’

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: ’Older people staying in hospital when they no longer need to is bad for their health and bad for the NHS, unnecessarily costing it £820 million a year.

She said that for the sake of NHS finances as well as older people ’both hospitals and local social services have to get their act together to discharge people more quickly when it is safe to do so’.

She added: ‘If this is not sorted all the agencies face an unsustainable situation of rising costs, rising demand for care, and funding cuts,’ she added.

Labour’s shadow care minister Barbara Keely MP said: ’This is a crisis that ministers can no longer afford to ignore. We need to see urgent action to repair the damage done to care services and to support people to live well in old age.’



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