NAO spotlights savings with better NHS bed management

24 Feb 00
Delays in discharging patients aged 75 and over cost NHS trusts more than £300m a year, the National Audit Office said this week.

25 February 2000

In a report on admissions and bed management in acute hospitals, the public sector watchdog estimated that almost 2.2 million bed days are lost each year because patients ready to go home are being kept in hospital.

But it added that speeding up discharge would not necessarily save money as the cost of care – around £1m a day – would be passed on to other carers, such as social services departments.

The most common cause of the delays was consultants who decided to discharge a patient too late in the day.

Patient admissions are now at record levels – in 1998/99 almost 6 million people spent at least one night in hospital – and the audit office acknowledged that finding beds was an 'increasingly challenging and complex' task.

Although most hospitals have bed managers, 90% had to phone or visit wards to determine bed availability. The NAO called on trusts to simplify the process by introducing electronic bed management systems.

But Tim Jones, policy manager with the NHS Confederation, warned this would not work. 'It is difficult to get clinical staff to enter the fact immediately that they have an empty bed,' he said.

'Of more concern is that this is not in the health service IT strategy Information for Health. If there is money for IT, it will not go into bed management systems. For some hospitals it would require a multi-million pound investment – it's just not going to happen,' he added.


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