Should there be more non-acute hospital beds available?

As part of our series of blogs about the upcoming vote on WI resolutions (for more details, see our earlier blog post), we examine the NHS and its provision of non-acute hospital beds. We’re writing these posts to kick-start the debate about these issues in advance of our November meeting; they don’t reflect any particular view or an ‘official’ view of the Sotonettes Committee so please read them with that in mind.  We want to know what our members think so please let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

“This meeting urges every NHS Trust to maintain or increase the number of non-acute hospital beds.”

Our population has changed dramatically since the NHS was founded in 1948. People are living longer with those over the age of 60 making up a quarter of the population. This has had a direct impact on NHS hospitals: around 25% of hospital inpatients have dementia and almost two thirds of hospital admissions are people aged over 65. People over 85 years spend on average 8 days longer in hospital than those under the age of 65.

The number of hospital beds has decreased by a third in the last 25 years, yet admissions have increased. Despite the high cost of hospital care the NHS has few alternatives.

Although emergency departments and acute hospital wards are there to cater for people in time of crisis and need, they are not always the most appropriate places and there is often a lack of community services, e.g. for the elderly patient who may need extra support for day to day tasks due to dementia but is other wise ‘fit and well’.

This increases unnecessary admissions to hospitals and prolongs the length of stay for patients, increases waiting times and puts strain on what few beds there are in hospitals. Whilst in hospital, elderly patients are often moved up to four times from ward to ward and continuity of care suffers. Studies show that 40% of people who die in hospital do not have medical needs requiring them to be there at the time.

Much more can be done to prevent unnecessary hospital admission and readmission, shorten the length of stay and ensure the smooth and effective transfer of care for patients ready to leave hospital. Areas with integrated services for older people have lower rates of bed use; these hospitals also tend to have lower admission rates and deliver good patient experience.

It is clear that the NHS must review the way in which people are admitted, ensure that acute hospital beds are used appropriately and ensure that services are put into place to help facilitate smooth discharge and continuing care for the elderly in their own communities.

The BBC have recently reported on the issues surrounding patients being discharged from hospital – read the article.