Days lost due to 'bed blockers' hits second highest figure on record


The number of days NHS hospitals lost to "bed blockers" who were medically fit to leave was the second highest on record in November, official figures show.

Hospitals in England continued to miss many of their key waiting times targets across the month, with ambulances, the 111 phone service and A&E all failing to hit standards, data from NHS England showed.

On delayed transfers of care - which occur when patients are fit to leave hospital but services such as social care are not in place to look after them - there were 153,000 days of delays in November, the second highest on record.

From January to November, 1.59 million days were lost in total to bed blocking - a figure that is already bigger than for any previous year.

In the whole of 2014, 1.56m days were lost, while 1.4m were lost in 2013 and 1.37m in 2012.

A&E departments only managed to see 91.4% of patients in four hours in November, the data also showed. This is the third lowest figure since monthly records began in 2010.

However, total A&E attendances in England from January to November 2015 are actually slightly down on the same period last year. There were 20.49m in 2015 compared with 20.54m in 2014.

Meanwhile, the November figures also showed the six-week target for diagnostic tests to be carried out was missed. It is now two years since it was last met.

On cancer, the 62-day wait for treatment from GP referral was missed (83.5% versus the target of 85%). The other seven cancer targets were met.

Ambulances missed their target to answer 75% of the most serious 999 calls in eight minutes - the sixth month in a row it has not been achieved.

The NHS 111 phone service also missed its target to answer 95% of calls within 60 seconds. 

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust health think tank, said: "These new figures are particularly worrying given that they only cover November, when the weather was exceptionally mild and winter had not even properly begun.

"The fact that there have been such dips in performance so early in the season does not leave the health service in a good position to cope with the rest of winter.

"Of particular concern again is the picture on delayed transfers of care - the number of delayed days in November was not quite as high as the peak reached the previous month, but is still the second highest since collection of the data began five years ago.

"Everyone agrees that hospital is not the best place for most of these patients once their medical treatment is finished - the issue of delayed transfers is fast becoming the biggest problem many NHS Trusts are facing."

Richard Barker, interim national director of commissioning operations for NHS England, said: "These figures for last November show frontline staff treating record numbers of patients, with particularly large increases in the number of patients getting diagnostic tests, emergency ambulance callouts, and using the NHS 111 service.

"We continue to treat more than nine out of 10 patients A&E patients within four hours, probably the best performance of any major western country."

On delayed transfers of care, an NHS England spokesman said: "These figures underline both the importance of joined-up care within the NHS, and the dependence of hospitals on well-functioning social care services - particularly for older people living at home."

Labour's shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander said: "Today's figures are a worrying illustration of just how far the NHS has declined under the Tories. Key commitments to ensure people are treated swiftly have been missed so often that failure has now become the norm.

"However much Jeremy Hunt tries to avoid the issues, he cannot deny that the NHS has gone backwards on his watch."

Simon Bottery, director of policy and external relations at Independent Age, the older people's charity, said: "Today figures show that - despite one of the warmest Novembers on record - our health and care system is struggling and failing to cope with the huge pressures placed upon it.

"The figures demonstrate the clear need for more funding, more services and better integration of health and social care.

"Yet we are reducing our spending on the NHS as a percentage of the nation's GDP and slashing social care."