The number of overnight emergency hospital stays could be cut by 2.3 million a year if care services for older people were better organised in England, a think-tank has said.
A report by the King’s Fund found there was scope to free up 7,000 emergency hospital beds by prioritising a number of key areas, potentially saving the NHS an annual figure of £462 million.
The study said the reductions could be achieved if all hospitals performed as well as the best 25% in terms of admissions and lengths of stay for over-65s who need urgent care.
Patients requiring urgent care were classed as those who were admitted via accident and emergency or sent to hospital by GPs for urgent help, rather than those who attended for routine check-ups and non-emergency operations.
Candace Imison, the report’s lead author, said: “An emergency admission to hospital can be distressing and unsettling for older people and increase their dependency.
“Currently two-thirds of emergency bed admissions are for elderly people and our research suggests that we can significantly reduce these numbers.
“With better design and co-ordination of services focused on the needs of older people, we estimate that the NHS could reduce overnight hospital stays by 2.3 million annually.
“Not only would this minimise exposure to psychological and clinical risk but would provide a model of care that is far more clinically and financially sustainable.”
The think-tank said the NHS could prioritise a number of key areas to reduce elderly people’s need for urgent hospital care, but admitted the factors affecting the variation in bed use are complex.
Its report, entitled Older People and Emergency Bed Use: Exploring Variation, suggested admissions could be reduced through closer work with GPs and other health services in the community to prevent illnesses developing to the point where patients need emergency help.
Having senior physicians at the point of admission could also cut numbers by ensuring the elderly are channelled to the best services sooner, the study also found.
Alex Mair, chief executive of the British Geriatrics Society, told the BBC: “Health and social care services must adapt to meet the urgent care needs of older people.
“At the moment services are too fragmented and hampered by poor communication.”
There are two million unplanned hospital admissions among the over-65s every year, according to statistics.