CONCERNS have been raised over the number of people affected by delays when it comes to leaving hospital.

Community Health Councils (CHCs) have published a report ‘Time to go home?’ This has been produced by the board of Community Health Councils on behalf of the seven CHCs in Wales and looks into when people have to wait in hospital, despite being told they are well enough to leave.

Delays can be put down to ongoing care arrangements not being in place or spaces not being available in care homes or different healthcare settings.

About 50 people were spoken to as part of the report.

The findings show that people’s experiences varied from delays of a few hours to as long as eight months.

The report said: “Problems with setting up a home care package was a major cause of delays.

“This might mean that the person needs carers or to go to a day centre or to have some other kind of help to let them live at home safely.

“Often a person’s care package could not be organised because carers could not be found.”

It was stated that when people have difficulty in getting the right care and community care services, when they are medically fit to leave hospital, problems can occur such as cancelled operations or ‘long term stays’ in emergency departments.

When it came to the number of patients delayed in hospital between April to December 2019, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board had some of the highest numbers across seven health boards (and one trust) in Wales with 86 patients in April; 73 in May; 80 in June; 84 in July; 99 in August; 111 in September; 90 in October; 121 in November and 95 in December.

John Pearce, chair of the Board of Community Health Councils in Wales, said: “For people stuck in hospital waiting to go home, we heard about the loneliness, isolation and depression they may feel.

“Some people told us they felt they were losing control of their lives. Others told us about a loss of confidence and independence that had affected peoples’ lives forever.”

“People told us that better communication, understanding and involvement between NHS staff and families could help resolve many of the problems, frustrations and anxieties they felt.

“The number of stories in our report represent only a small number of the delays regularly reported by the NHS in Wales.

“Some of the reasons for these delays have been problems for a long time in Wales and across the UK. Over the past year health boards have increasingly identified a lack of suitable care home places and community care support as the main reason people are staying in hospital longer than they need to.”

In response to the report, the Welsh Government said: “In 2017 we saw the lowest figures recorded in the 14 years that statistics have been collected and published, whilst those reported in 2018 were the second lowest on record. However, the numbers have increased recently and this has been the subject of much discussion with health boards and local authorities, including the proposed remedial actions outlined in their Winter Resilience Plans.

“One of the primary reasons for the increase in delays is the number of patients waiting for domiciliary care services to be put in place to enable them to return to their own homes and communities, living independently, but with support.

“Delivering on their preference is likely to be beneficial to their overall health and wellbeing.

“However, efforts to increase provision to meet this demand have been hampered by issues of recruitment and retention of staff in the home care market. Similarly, persistent problems in recruiting nursing staff – particularly elderly mental illness nurses – to fill vacancies in nursing homes, is contributing to the rise in patients awaiting such placements.

“The Welsh Government has issued guidance on hospital discharge arrangements which makes it very clear that planning for a patient’s discharge should commence from the time of their admission. The guidance includes an outline ‘Patient Information Leaflet’ which is intended to answer all the questions patients and their families or carers raise about their rights to a placement in a care home of their choice and support in choosing or visiting potential placements.”I would expect health boards to continue to work with local authorities and the third sector to ensure people return home from hospital as soon as they are fit to do so. We are supporting them through the national ‘Every Day Counts’ programme.

“For the longer term, we recognise the need to improve the stability of the domiciliary care market, by involving public, private and social value sectors. We have also placed an emphasis on prevention and keeping people well at home and in their communities to potentially avoid hospital admissions and potential delays in their discharge.”

To read the report in full, click here.