Discharge delays for older people costing NHS in England £820 million a year

National Audit Office report reveals cost of delayed discharge to NHS, while RCN and British Geriatrics Society highlight effects on patients' health, wellbeing and independence

A study by spending watchdog the National Audit Office has found many older people are still being kept in hospital without a need for acute clinical care.

It found that patients aged 65 and over who no longer need acute care could account for 2.7 million bed days in England each year, placing an ‘additional and avoidable pressure’ on the NHS.

The RCN has called for more investment in community care to allow people to return home when able, and to free up beds in hospitals ‘struggling to cope with patient demand’.

Avoidable delays can lead to slower recovery, loss of independence and even premature admission to care homes, the RCN added.

The National Audit Office's report found:

£820 million is the gross annual cost to the NHS in England of treating older patients in hospital who no longer need to receive acute clinical care.

62% of all UK hospital bed days were occupied by the over 65s in 2014-15.

11.9 days was the average length of inpatient stay for older patients in 2014-15.

5% is the estimated amount of muscle strength older people potentially lose per day while being receiving treatment in a hospital bed.

18% increase in emergency admissions of older people between 2010-11 and 2014-15 (compared to a 12% increase for whole population).

Cost to patients

RCN professional lead for acute, emergency and critical care Anna Crossley said: ‘Older people’s routines are interrupted and their ability to cope by themselves reduced if they are needlessly kept in hospital.

‘This can lead to their health declining and a premature admission to a care home.

‘Investing in community health care means older people can receive more appropriate care which maintains their independence and reduces the pressure on the wider health and social care system.’

The British Geriatrics Society echoed the call for funding, claiming delayed discharge can affect an older person’s recovery and independence.

British Geriatrics Society president David Oliver said: ‘Although there has been a recent emphasis on the negative effect of early discharge on older patients… staying in hospital when it is not medically indicated also has a negative impact on a patient’s health, wellbeing and ability to regain independence.’

Further information:

National Audit Office report