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Support fears forcing nurses to ‘delay hospital discharge’

Nearly 70% of nurses across England admit they frequently delay discharging older patients because there is no support in place for them when they leave hospital, new research has found. 

The findings, from older people’s charity the Royal Voluntary Service and The King’s Fund, also revealed that of the nurses surveyed (95%) reported that delayed discharge is a serious problem in the hospitals they work in and 82% said it has worsened in the last 12 months. 

According to nurses in England, the key causes of delayed discharge are lack of onward social care for older people (96%), followed jointly by waiting for non-acute NHS care hospital assessments and delays in arrangements and funding for onward care (93%). 

But the Department of Health (DH) says extra council funding has helped move people out of hospital. 

Just over half of the 189 nurses surveyed online in January and February added that they were frequently pressured by relatives to keep patients in hospital longer, despite them being physically well enough to leave. 

David McCullough, chief executive of the Royal Voluntary Service, said: “This winter we have seen delays in hospital discharge reach unprecedented levels, with lack of support for older people after hospital a root cause.  

“While additional funding has been allocated in some areas to address the crisis, many local authorities and hospital trusts are still facing budget cuts. Partnering with Home from Hospital schemes to provide greater volunteer support is a cost effective solution which helps drive important efficiencies in hospitals and enables swift, well-managed discharge from wards.” 

The latest study revealed that two fifths of nurses who have worked with volunteers said they made a “big difference” and helped them in their job. Overall, almost three quarters believe partnering with charities and volunteers could help ease pressure on the NHS. 

The government has already recognised the value of volunteers by providing £1.2m in additional grant funding for the Royal Voluntary Service, Age UK and the British Red Cross to introduce more volunteers into 29 NHS trusts’ A&E departments. However, RVS says these are only a fraction of the trusts that would benefit. 

David Buck, senior fellow, Public health and health inequalities, at The King’s Fund, said: “Volunteers can help ease some of this pressure by working with hospitals and social care to help improve transfer of elderly people to their homes.  

“We know that those who receive these services value them highly and there are indications that this may also help reduce readmission rates too.” 

A DH spokesperson added: “We have given £37m to local authorities to tackle delayed discharges from hospitals and £1.2m to expert charities, to offer patients additional specialist support when they need it most.” 

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