Government targets for reducing delayed transfers of care look set to be missed despite figures falling to their lowest levels since April 2016.
The figures, which track the number of days people’s discharges from hospital have been delayed across the country, have hit record levels on a number of occasions in the past year.
However, September’s total delayed days number, 168,302, was 14.5% lower than the 196,570 at the same time last year, government statistics show. In the past two months alone, the number of delayed days attributable to social care has fallen by more than 10%.
Experts welcomed the reductions but warned they were “unlikely” to free up enough beds for winter or to meet targets – widely criticised as being too stringent – set by the Department of Health in July.
The government stipulated that by the time September’s figures were published, just 2.6 adults per 100,000 should be delayed in hospital for social care reasons.
But a Local Government Association (LGA) report has revealed that the most recent national average is 4.7, with a number of councils running at twice or three times higher.
Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s community wellbeing board, called for “urgent clarity” about the impact on councils, which had been warned their funding for next year could be affected.
’Huge ongoing efforts’
Since the government targets were introduced, councils have reduced their total delayed days by more than 10% (from 68,098 to 61,147), while NHS delayed days fell by just under 6.5% (from 101,681 to 95,104).
Over the same period the ‘DToC beds’ measure, calculated by dividing the number of delayed days by the number of calendar days in the month, showed a 7.2% drop for social care against a 3.4% one for the NHS.
Meanwhile, the proportion of delays attributable to social care, which also reached its highest-ever level at 38% this summer, has fallen to 36.3%. This remains high, however, compared with the 31% being regularly recorded as recently as autumn 2015.
Seccombe said the social care delay reductions were “testament to huge ongoing efforts by councils to get people out of hospital and back into the community”.
Margaret Willcox, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), described the falling proportion of delayed days attributable to social care as a “fantastic achievement”.
Willcox added: “[This is] evidence that the £1 billion emergency funding identified [by the government] earlier this year to avoid cuts has really made a difference.” The figures were “good news” in terms of preparing for winter, she said.
‘Unlikely to be enough’
But Richard Murray, director of policy for The King’s Fund, warned that the overall reduction in delayed transfers was “unlikely to be enough” to free up the 2,000 to 3,000 beds NHS leaders said would be needed for safe care over the winter.
Nor, he acknowledged, was it likely that the targets for reducing the number of hospital bed days lost due to delays in discharging patients would be met.
The Department of Health had warned that authorities’ social care budgets for next year could face ‘review’ if they failed to hit their targets. A spokesperson confirmed that a review would be happening “in due course” but said there were no further updates at the time of writing.
Seccombe said: “Councils need urgent clarity and greater transparency around how [the situation] will be judged and the implications for local services.
“It is vital that government and NHS England work with councils to make sure we all make the best use of our scarce resources,” she added.
Murray said reducing DToCs must continue to be a priority.
“Success depends on councils and NHS organisations working effectively together,” he said. “While the additional money provided by the government has helped, it is no more than a sticking plaster given the funding pressures and increasing demand facing health and social care services.”