AN MP has vowed to 'keep an eye' on a project to "slash" lengthy hospital stays for frail patients.

Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman has responded to the Durham Dales Health Federation's (DDHF) latest news which stated it had saved around £30,000 by reducing hospital stays with a"pioneering" project.

DDHF said it had been working with discharge teams at Bishop Auckland and Darlington Memorial Hospitals to reduce the length of stays from 30 days to just 16.

The project, which started in January, is the "innovation" of Tracey Stores, who heads DDHF Health Care Coordinating team.

DDHF includes GP practices in Bishop Auckland, Barnard Castle, Cockfield, Evenwood, Gainford, Crook, Middleton-in-Teesdale, Butterknowle and Stanhope.

It exists to maintain and develop the provision of general practice in the rural and urban communities of the Durham Dales, to make the service more accessible, cost effective and responsive.

She said: "Sometimes patients are discharged when perhaps there isn’t the support at home, or where the circumstances which lead them to hospital haven’t changed. It tends to be older people and where they are patients we know, we can help in making sure that when they go home, it is to a supported, safe environment, involving their families."

Ms Stores takes part in discharge meetings - which involves nursing staff and social workers - and provides staff with more detailed information on their circumstances.

She added: "The hospital teams welcome me with open arms. Everyone is so stretched and enabling people to go home much earlier than before with the increased chance that they will not come back is a big help."

She said a day of care for an elderly patient costs an average £300 and the numbers helped since January means a saving of around £30,000.

There is no funding for the project, which is an extension of the work the health care co-ordinating team.

"We hope to extend the service to other hospitals including Durham Hospital and community hospitals, such as Sedgefield, Barnard Castle, Shotley Bridge and Chester-le-Street," she added. "Anything which helps people leave hospital earlier prevents them becoming frailer and more dependent."

However, many of those who attended a public meeting over the proposed closure of Ward 6 - a step-down ward at Bishop Auckland Hospital - last month, said they felt patients were being discharged too early and were often left in the care of families.

Ms Goodman said she will now be following the project closely.

She said: “Any project looking at discharging people from hospital needs to hold the best interests of patients at its heart, particularly in light of proposed cuts to the nurse-led service on Ward 6. I am all for joined-up care and stronger communication between hospitals, GPs and families, but we must make sure going home is the best choice for the patient – not just the balance sheets. I’ll be following this project closely.”