Huge rise in emergency admissions leads to calls for NHS reform

2 Jul 10
The number of patients admitted unnecessarily to hospital has risen dramatically, costing the NHS millions of pounds, a health think-tank has warned.
By Lucy Phillips

5 July 2010

The number of patients admitted unnecessarily to hospital has risen dramatically, costing the NHS millions of pounds, a health think-tank has warned. 

A report published today by the Nuffield Trust found that there has been a rise of almost 12% in the number of emergency admissions to hospitals in England over the past five years, resulting in 1.35m extra in-patients at an annual cost of £330m to the health service.

The huge increase correlated with a ‘marked jump’ in the number of emergency short-stay hospital admissions of one day or less, indicating that in-treatment was not required and care could have been given by GPs or other community services.  According to the report, short-stay admissions increased by more than half a million between 2004/5 and 2008/9, accounting for 49% of all emergency admissions by the end of the five-year period. All emergency admissions now cost around £11bn each year.  

The report, Trends in emergency admissions in England 2004-2009: is greater efficiency breeding inefficiency?, concludes that advances in medical care have freed up more hospital beds, allowing doctors to admit more patients. They called for better out-of-hospital care and preventative services in the community to reduce the risk of admission, enabling expensive hospital beds to be closed.

Jennifer Dixon, director of the Nuffield Trust and one of the report’s authors, said tackling the ‘unsustainable’ rise in emergency admissions should be a top priority for health service reform.

‘Avoidable emergency admissions will continue to rise unless care is more integrated and hospitals and beds are closed. Otherwise the risk is that the NHS becomes unaffordable,’ she said.

The NHS Confederation said the findings ‘furthered the case’ for fundamentally reviewing the emergency care system. ‘Hospital is often the right place for sick patients to be but we know that for many there are better, more convenient and more cost effective alternatives to hospital admission,’ said the confederation’s acting chief executive Nigel Edwards.


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