The NHS is to send thousands of hospital patients home sooner in a bid to end a “long stay” culture on the wards, the head of the service will say today.
Simon Stevens will pledge to cut long stays in hospital by one quarter, to free up beds for those most in need.
Nearly 350,000 patients spend at least three weeks stuck on a ward each year. They take up one fifth of all beds – the equivalent of 36 hospitals.
Officials say too many elderly people are being forced to endure miserable stays on wards, which strip too many of their independence and mobility – often permanently – when what they need is help at home.
Today Mr Stevens will order hospitals to do more to ensure patients can be sent home sooner, with the right help. Trusts will be told to speed up assessments so more patients can be discharged at weekends, instead of being stuck waiting for checks by care workers. Hospitals will be told to carry out more routine treatment as day cases.
There will be more support for care home staff so residents can be treated without being admitted to hospital.
Officials say acting now should free up 4,000 beds ahead of next winter.
Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference in Manchester today, Mr Stevens will say: “Over this past year hospitals and local councils have successfully worked together and have turned the corner on delays in patients being discharged. Now they need to go further in order to ensure patients are treated with dignity and looked after in the right setting for them.”
Officials want to avoid a repeat of the crisis last winter, with A&E delays the highest on record, and the highest number of cancelled operations for 25 years. This year, trusts are being advised to start their planning earlier, to free up thousands of beds.
“Intensive support” will be offered by health officials to help trusts tackle levels of “bed-blocking” by ensuring more care is available outside hospitals. Failure to cut long-stays by 25 per cent will be deemed a safety issue, with extra monitoring of struggling hospitals, trusts will be warned.
Charities welcomed the initiative, but said the plans would only work if hospitals and councils were able to put in place enough care in people’s homes.
It comes as social services chiefs warned that the care sector was becoming “increasingly fragile” with one in three councils seeing home care providers close within the last six months.
Andrea Sutcliffe, the chief inspector of social care, has previously raised concerns that pressures to empty hospital beds could see vulnerable patients moved into inadequate facilities.
Rachel Power, the chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “Improved support to ensure patients can stay as well as possible in their own homes, whether immediately after an admission or as a way to prevent one, will be vital in ensuring the NHS meets the changing needs of our population.”