Health chiefs have warned delays in discharging patients who no longer require a hospital bed could compromise care of others who have contracted Covid and those with other serious conditions.
A letter from NHS England sent to social services directors, hospital chief executives and other health organisations in Kent and the south east, warns that a failure to act could significantly increase the risk of patient harm.
The letter from Anne Eden, the regional director of South East NHS England and NHS Improvement, states: “Staff absences, capacity constraints arising from IP&C (Infection prevention and Control) requirements and the need to maintain delivery of time critical care for patients, including those requiring elective and cancer treatment mean that we must continue to focus on creating the necessary capacity to meet demand.
"Failure to do this will significantly increase the risk of a further rise in patient harm.”
It goes on to say that to avoid such a scenario “we have been tasked with maximising discharges, achieving further reductions in the number of patients who no longer meet the criteria to reside but remain in beds, and reducing length of stay.”
It tells health care providers to draw up plans to reduce delayed discharges by 50% by the end of January.
It details how many hospitals had improved the rate of discharge before Christmas but “some of the gains previously achieved were eroded over the Christmas period.
Consequently, it is now critical that we redouble our efforts to discharge those patients who no longer require bedded care, to create capacity, improve flow and reduce the pressure on staff.”
It acknowledges: “We recognise that this will require difficult decisions, but we need all leaders to lean in to this challenge and take collective decisions based on the right thing to do both for those patients in need of urgent treatment, as well as those patients who have completed their treatment.”
It calls on the different agencies to work together to reduce the amount of time patients remain in hospital by saying: “We need you to lead a collective effort to drive rapid and sustained improvement in the discharge position, minimising delays created by the NHS and working with local authority colleagues.”
It encourages hospitals “to think innovatively about how patients can be supported in alternative settings during this period of intense pressure.”
It suggests health care bosses “specifically consider all opportunities to maximise the use of digitally enabled virtual wards and remote monitoring services for COVID and respiratory conditions, to prevent admissions, promote early discharge and to optimise established rapid response and ambulatory teams, including proactive remote monitoring in care homes.”
To help address patient numbers, a new 'surge hub's is being constructed in Ashford, at the William Harvey Hospital.
Kent County Council said in a statement from Cllr Clair Bell, cabinet member for adult social care, said: “Covid, increasing costs, and the ongoing challenge of attracting and retaining staff, are combining to put the care sector under unprecedented pressure nationally this winter – and Kent is not immune.”
“Robust plans have been put in place to manage these pressures locally and we are working extremely closely with the NHS, other partners and care providers, to ensure our most vulnerable residents receive the care they both need and deserve.”
"Working with partners we are doing everything we can to support the NHS and ensure that patients who are discharged from hospital are able to do so safely, with the appropriate support in place.
"It is also vital that we keep residents in all settings, as well as the staff who care for them, safe at all times.”