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Health Foundation Research Shows Slowdown in Number of Patients Discharged from Hospital

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New analysis from The Health Foundation shows social care is under great strain but waiting for social care services has never accounted for the majority of delays.

A review of open access NHS data on hospital discharge and bed occupancy in England (between Q1 2010/11 and Q3 2022/23) found that in December 2022, more than 13,000 beds – out of a total of around 100,000 hospital beds in England – were occupied by patients who were medically fit for discharge, an increase of 57% since December 2020. Although changes to the way data are collected make it difficult to compare with pre-pandemic data, the rate of growth over the last 2 years is unprecedented.

This is not due to a slowdown in the rate at which patients are discharged – over the past year, the number of patients being discharged from hospital has increased by around 300 per day. However, the number of new patients who have been treated and are ready for discharge has increased by around 650 per day, explaining the increase in the number of patients medically fit for discharge who remain in hospital.

The average wait between being deemed fit for discharge and actually being discharged was 1.3 days in December 2022. This average includes many patients who aren’t delayed at all; most delayed patients experience much longer discharge waits. This average masks significant regional variation: the average wait in the north west of England was 2.1 days, which was twice as long as in the east of England or London (1.0 day).

The focus on delayed discharges reflects wider pressures on the health and care system which have seen hospital bed occupancy increase to above 95% among adult general and acute beds in September–December 2022, well above recommended levels. This increases the risk of infection for patients, adds to pressures on staff and is not sustainable.

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