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By Debbie le Quesne

Discharge delays again: New measures needed to fix problem

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The Government body for scrutinising value for money on public spending has concluded “patients and the NHS have a right to expect better” on the issue of hospital discharge delays for the elderly.

The recent Public Accounts Committee report challenges the Government to address the scale and cost of the problem.

It urges new measures to tackle discharge delays, which are bad for both patients’ health and the financial sustainability of the NHS and local government.

I have campaigned long and hard on this issue and clearly made known my views that in many cases hospitals are really not that switched on to getting the elderly back into the community or care homes. Discharge managers need to have a good understanding of how care homes deal with admissions and how care packages are processed.

The Committee found there was a poor understanding of the scale of discharge problems, with official data substantially under-estimating the range of delays and the number of older patients affected.

There is unacceptable variation in local performance on discharging such patients, said the Committee, finding that while good discharge practice is well understood, “implementation is patchy across local areas”.

It concluded poor sharing of patient information is a significant barrier to improving performance, while “the fragility of the adult social care provider market” exacerbates discharge difficulties.

All this is true, but there is I believe a bigger problem. Care costs money and the sanctioning of care packages becomes, it appears, more and more protracted. It’s not just a case of finding a step-down bed or a care or nursing home, the big issue is getting it funded.

However, while the Committee recognises there is pressure on funding, it does not accept this necessarily blocks efforts to make further improvements and urges a greater commitment to step up the pace of change.

It concluded: “NHS England shows a striking poverty of ambition in believing that holding delays to the current inflated level would be a satisfactory achievement.”

Harsh words.

Those regions which are doing best are the ones where “all the local system owns all of the problem” but this practice is all too rare. NHS and social care sing off the same hymn sheet, but who’s going to be choirmaster to create some harmony here?

Here we go . . . the reports adds: “The Department, NHS England and NHS Improvement have failed to address long-standing barriers to the health and social care sectors sharing information and taking up good practice. The result is unacceptable variation in local performance.”

West Midlands Care Association is available to help resolve the discharge problems. Getting the right people to talk to us . . . now there’s another challenge.

Local health and social care organisations need to work together effectively, in fully integrated systems, to make this work.

The National Audit Office (NAO) has estimated a gross cost of around £800 million a year for the NHS of older patients delayed in hospital when they no longer benefit from being there.

 

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