Delayed hospital discharges costs health service '£1.5m each month'
Northern Ireland's health service is losing more than £1.5m each month because people are taking up hospital beds despite not needing treatment, research has found.
The logjam is believed to be due to pressures on social services in creating care packages for patients who require additional support after discharge, leading to delayed departure from hospital.
The Independent Health and Care Providers (IHCP) has called for reform, saying delayed discharges occur when people who require further care, such as support at home or other specialised care, instead remain in hospital because there is no capacity to meet these requirements.
Unless the Health and Social Care (HSC) is reformed, the IHCP say these delays will continue to cost upwards of £50,000 per day.
The IHCP - who conducted the research - is the representative body for private, voluntary, charitable and church-affiliated providers of health and social care.
Its analysis of figures for beds last August showed that, over a four-week period, there was a total cost of £1,475,000 related to 4,338 "bed days" lost - an average cost of £340 per bed a day.
The main reason for the stress is due to the rising amount of people who are aged over 65.
In 2013 there was estimated to be 279,000 people aged over 65, with 33,000 of them over 85. In the next two decades, these figures are set to rise to 456,000 and 79,000 respectively, and the demographic shift for 2015-2023 will be equal to the shift in the preceding 40 years.
Population projections indicate an additional 4,050 care packages will be required in 2020 compared to current levels - an increase of 15%; and an additional 20,101 care packages will be required in 2037 compared to 2016 - an increase of 68%.
IHCP chief executive Pauline Shepherd said major reform is required, including the implementation of the Bengoa Report.
"The huge increase in life expectancy is a great achievement - and one factor in this has been the very high quality of our health system," she said.
"However, it signals a major shift in what is required from our health service.
"Ageing brings an increased likelihood of some degree of disability, dependency and illness, and older people are now the main users of Northern Ireland's health and social care services.
"In addition, the profile of older people requiring care is becoming more complex, as many people are now living with multiple chronic illnesses.
"As well as living longer, developments in how we can treat and manage conditions mean that we are all much more likely to develop and live with one or more long-term conditions."
A spokesperson for the HSC said: "The Health and Social Care Board welcomes the IHCP's focus on and continued highlighting of the challenges arising from the demographic changes currently facing both the Health and Social Care Board and its independent sector partners.
"The Health and Social Care Board and Trusts are committed to addressing any unnecessary delays in discharging people from hospital but this must be balanced with ensuring that they receive the most appropriate care package to suit their needs.
"In the case of more complex care needs, this may require time to negotiate and arrange.
"Quicker throughput would not resolve any freeing up of resources but would ensure more efficient use of hospital capacity and reduce waiting times."