DELAYS in discharging hospital patients from critical care units means new patients are facing long waits for beds.
While beds are occupied they cannot be used for new critical care patients.
In Wales, every quarter more than 22,000 hours are ‘lost’ due to delayed discharges.
At times, this can increase to more than 31,000 hours – the equivalent of closing 14 critical care beds to patients for a year.
Two reports into care for the critically ill published today reveal that while survival rates are improving, delayed transfers from critical
care units are resulting in the loss of hospital beds.
The first annual report for the critically ill and a separate assessment into the unmet need for critical care in Wales show the NHS must focus on reducing transfer delays.
The assessment of unmet need for critical care report concludes Wales may need another 73 critical care beds but says creating additional capacity is unlikely to alleviate the problem unless the rate of delayed transfers is reduced.
Health minister Mark Drakeford said yesterday that health boards would take action to increase the number of beds available by tackling the delays.
A new measure will be piloted across Wales from the autumn, which will require health boards to reduce the number of bed hours lost because of delayed transfers by 10 per cent every quarter.
“Critical care beds are not always used appropriately,” he said.
“Not all patients in critical beds need that intense level of care.
“We must make the best use of the resources we already have and action must be accelerated to tackle inefficient use of our critical care beds.
“All health boards in Wales should have a plan in place to tackle delayed transfers of care and will be required to deliver a phased reduction.
“Wales’ critical care beds are spread over a large number of hospitals but there is a growing consensus among clinicians that they may be better be concentrated on fewer sites.”
Meanwhile, a group that campaigns against the closure of community hospitals said the Welsh Government-commissioned reports show the negative effects of the closures.
Wales has 3.2 critical care beds per 100,000 people, compared to four in England and a European average of 11.
Mabon ap Gwynfor, of the North Wales Health Alliance, said: “The closure of Llangollen, Flint, Prestatyn and Ffestiniog Community Hospitals has placed undue pressures on Wrexham Maelor and other district general hospitals.
“Consequently we have seen patients having vital operations cancelled, and some waiting for hours in ambulances.
“We understand there are serious budgetary constraints, and that health managers are trying to save money but closing our community hospitals is a false economy.
“Saving money on a spreadsheet has meant that some people have had to pay dearly with a poor quality of life and in some cases untimely deaths.
“This report should be a wake up call. It is now time for the minister to look again at the health boards’ hospital closure programme and consider investing in community beds, which will save money in the long term but more importantly will also help save lives.”