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Days lost through hospital 'bed blocking' at record high

Published 08/09/2016

It is only the third time A&E visits have topped the two million mark since records began in 2010
It is only the third time A&E visits have topped the two million mark since records began in 2010

The number of days lost through so-called "bed blocking" in England is at its highest monthly level on record.

Patients taking up beds when they no longer required hospital care took up 184,188 days in July compared to the 147,376 days in the same period last year, according to NHS England data.

It comes as the number of visits to A&E in England reached its second highest monthly level and topped two million for only the third time since records began in 2010.

Critics warned the figures revealed the end of the "traditional summer respite" for the NHS.

Bed blocking is when someone is medically fit to be discharged, but care has not been organised to help them outside of hospital.

The number of days lost due to delays marks a rise from the 171,298 days lost in June.

The number of patients delayed at midnight on the last Thursday of July - used to provide a snapshot of levels of bed blocking - is also at a record high, the figures show.

NHS England said the figures "underline the importance of joined-up care within the NHS and the dependence of hospitals on well-functioning social care services".

More than half (59.1%) of all delays in July were attributable to the NHS, while the social care sector was responsible for 33.1% of delays. Both were responsible for 7.8%.

The main reason for delays caused by the social care sector was that patients were awaiting care in their own home.

Almost a third (29%) of NHS delays were caused by patients waiting for non-urgent NHS care.

Clare Marx, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said bed capacity was a "major concern" and warned that the NHS would "remain in a state of constant winter" unless funding issues were addressed.

"Patients' treatment is too often delayed because there is no space on wards for them after their operations," she said.

"Unless the NHS and social care does more to help patients leave hospital sooner and the elective bed capacity increases, I fear we will not see waiting times improve."

She added: "Without a serious look at what the NHS needs in funding, we will remain in a state of constant winter."

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust health think-tank, said they showed "the days of a traditional summer respite for the NHS are gone for good".

He added: "I think NHS England and the Department of Health should look more rigorously at the way they calculate these delays."

There were some 2,075,939 A&E visits in July, a 6.3% rise compared with the same period last year, the NHS England figures also show.

And emergency admissions were the third highest monthly figure on record, with a total of 490,221 cases.

NHS England said the latest figures showed the pressures facing the health service and warned of the "obvious risks" of further industrial action, as junior doctor s prepare to stage further walkouts in October, November and December in a row over a new contract.

Matthew Swindells, NHS England's national director of operations and information, said: "As the NHS responds to ever-increasing care needs, hospitals are continuing to look after more than nine out of 10 A&E patients within four hours, and more than nine in 10 patients are waiting less than 18 weeks for their routine operations.

"While this is probably the best performance of any Western nation, these figures underline the pressures facing the NHS, and the obvious risks to patient care posed by weeks of further drawn-out industrial action."

In July, 90.3% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged from A&E within four hours of arrival, below the target of 95%.

And 91.3% of patients on the waiting list at the end of the month had been waiting less than 18 weeks for consultant-led elective treatment, below the target of 92%.

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