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New bid to cut needlessly long stays in hospital

12:00am | & Health

Plans to improve patient care by cutting long stays in hospitals have been announced by senior NHS leaders.

Speaking at the annual NHS Confederation conference in Manchester, NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens and NHS Improvement Chief Executive Ian Dalton set out the plans, which will also help free up thousands of hospital beds and ease pressures next winter.

Shorter stays will benefit patients who would otherwise be stuck in hospital when they are well enough to leave, as well as freeing up beds for those who are sicker. Many older people, particularly those who are frail and may have dementia, actually deteriorate while in hospital – a stay of more than 10 days leads to 10 years’ muscle ageing for people most at risk.

Nearly 350,000 patients spend more than three weeks in a hospital each year. That is around a fifth of beds, or the equivalent of 36 hospitals. Some patients need to be there for medical reasons but many do not. The NHS, working with local authorities, aims to reduce the number of long staying patients by around a quarter, freeing up more than 4,000 beds in time for the winter surge.

Simon Stevens said: “Over this past year, hospitals and local councils have successfully worked together and turned the corner on delays in patients being discharged. Now they need to go further to ensure patients are treated with dignity and looked after in the right setting for them.”

The joint announcement comes as the NHS is drawing up plans for next winter after having been hit by a perfect storm of bad weather, flu and stomach bugs, along with record A&E attendances and emergency admissions, in the winter just gone.

Ian Dalton said his organisation and NHS England are determined to tackle the issue of bed availability before the onset of next winter. Her said: “No one wants patients to stay in hospital longer than they have to, or for the health of patients to deteriorate in the very place that is supposed to be making them better. But this is happening all too often and we have to work together to change it. Every day in hospital is a precious day away from normal life.

“By setting this national ambition and working with trusts and local systems to deliver it, we will help more patients to recover safely and as quickly as possible, while ensuring that hospital resources are used for those who need them most.”

To enable patients to be safely discharged earlier (when there is no longer a medical need to remain in hospital) the NHS is working with several partners to find new ways of providing ‘halfway house’ care. This will help patients recover in a more normal setting, such as a care home, before they are well enough to return to their own home, or provide the appropriate levels of care in their own home following a stay in hospital.

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “Meeting the needs of older people who have complex combinations of long-term conditions is a key challenge facing the NHS. Prolonged stays in hospital are often not the right solution for these patients. Improved support to ensure patients can stay as well as possible in their own homes, whether immediately after an admission or as a way to prevent one, will be vital in ensuring the NHS meets the changing needs of our population.”

Sally Copley, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Alzheimer’s Society, added: “For too long people with dementia have been pulled from pillar to post in our not-fit-for-purpose health and social care system. It’s great to see the Government sitting up and taking this issue seriously with an integrated approach, and more support for care home staff is definitely welcome.”

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