Nursing unions have called for urgent investment in community and social care, following the publication of latest figures on delayed discharge levels in England.
There were 167,700 total delayed days in April 2016, of which 67.2% were in acute care, according to figures released on Thursday by NHS England.
This represents an increase from April 2015, where there were 138,000 total delayed days, of which 64.3% were in acute care.
“Hospitals are constantly hamstrung because they can’t discharge patients”
On a positive note, the figures reveal a slight fall in total days delayed since a peak of 167,677 in March, but patient numbers affected reached a new high in April of 5,924 – up from 5,703 in March.
NHS England said 60.2% of all delays in April 2016 were attributable to the NHS, 32.9% were attributable to social care and the remaining 7.0% were attributable to both.
It noted that the proportion of delays attributable to social care had increased over the last year to 32.9% in April 2016, compared to 29.1% in April 2015.
The main reason for NHS delays in April 2016 was “patients awaiting further non-acute NHS care”, which accounted for 30% of all health service delays and represents an increasing trend since May 2015.
Meanwhile, the main reason for social care delays in April 2016 was “patients awaiting care package in their own home”, which accounted for 35.3% of all social care delays.
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Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said delayed discharge “benefits no one”, with disruption to people’s lives and risking a decline in their health.
“Reducing the number of beds and staff available for people who are acutely ill, at a time when the demands on hospitals are rising fast is bad for the NHS,” she said.
“Nurses working in the community can help people manage their conditions at home, and can prevent health problems becoming so serious they require expensive and disruptive hospital treatment,” said Ms Davies.
She called for the NHS to be “much more ambitious about fixing the issue now”, backing investment in the community and warning against further cut-backs.
“Investing in community and social care services would see older people receiving more appropriate care and reduce pressure on the wider health and social care system,” she said.
“Continuing to cut back these services when the numbers of older people are rising rapidly is unacceptable,” she added.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis agreed, saying: “Continuous cuts to social care budgets are the reason why many people have to stay longer in hospital than they should.
“Hospitals are constantly hamstrung because they can’t discharge patients where no care exists in the community,” he said.
“Without further investment the problem will get worse and patients will be left in limbo not knowing when they might get out of hospital,” he added.