Patients are being stuck in hospital when they’re well enough to leave and could have their chances of recovery undermined because of it, it has been warned.

Hundreds of hospital beds across the region are being blocked up each night by patients who needn’t be there.

Only three in every ten patients deemed ready by doctors to leave hospitals in Durham and Darlington are actually discharged by midnight on an average day, figures show.

It means 70% of patients clinically ready to leave end up enduring another night on the wards. The figures are worse than the national average of 57.8% and North East average of 45.6%.

It comes amid warnings those staying in hospital for longer than needed, particularly the frail and elderly, could have their chances of recovery undermined by long stays.

Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK, said: “Behind these stats are real people, the vast majority of them older, who had to endure the misery of being stuck in a hospital bed for far longer than was good for them, potentially undermining their chances of making a good recovery.

“This is so sad for them and their families and a waste of NHS resources.

“It is vital that the health and care system works better in discharging older people from hospital once they are medically well enough to leave.”

The Northern Echo: File photo: A hospital ward.File photo: A hospital ward. (Image: PA)

Experts and NHS doctors have also told of chronic understaffing and investment in social care causing delays. In most cases, hospitals blamed waits for “availability of resource for assessment and start of care at home” for being unable to discharge patients.

On four nights over the last year – from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023 – not one patient fit to leave the hospital actually did.

The figures, collated by the BBC’s Shared Data Unit, relate to the County Durham and Darlington NHS Trust which had the highest proportion (70.5%) of discharge-ready patients taking up beds in the North East.

The trust said it prioritises the safe care of patients but apologised to those delayed being discharged.

A trust spokesperson said: “We prioritise the safe care and management of our patients and work closely with partners including local authorities and care homes to safely discharge patients.

“We apologise to patients who may have been delayed in being discharged from hospital to home or another setting.

“Many of the patients we are caring for have complex needs and our priority is ensuring all patients receive appropriate investigations, treatment, diagnosis and care, quickly, in order that they can return home or to their place of residence as soon and safely as possible.”

But Dr Paul Williams, an NHS doctor and former MP for Stockton South, warned the current system is not fit for purpose and needs investment, while the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) called for a long-term plan for social care.

The Northern Echo: Dr Paul Williams was Labour MP for Stockton South from 2017 to 2019. Dr Paul Williams was Labour MP for Stockton South from 2017 to 2019. (Image: SARAH CALDECOTT)

“What we need is a proper integrated health and social care system where it works as one for patients,” Dr Williams said.

“Our social system isn’t always fit for purpose and it’s no fault of the individuals working in it. They work extremely hard but the system hasn’t had the level of investment that we need to keep up with the changing demographics and increasingly old and frail population.

“It has suffered from not enough investment over years and years and so it’s largely a resource issue.

“We have a shortage of social care staff and places in care homes. The work is undervalued and often low paid, often they can earn more in Lidl than they can working in social care.”

RCN Director for England, Patricia Marquis, added: “No patient should spend longer in hospital than necessary, but a lack of social or home care is leaving many waiting to be discharged - when they should be getting more appropriate care elsewhere.

 “At the heart of this is persistent understaffing across all care settings – but particularly in social care.  We would like to see a long-term plan for social care that matches the ambitions of the recent NHS Long-term Workforce Plan. Put simply, we need more nursing staff in the community and social care sector.

Even at the region’s best-performing hospitals in Newcastle almost 30% of patients spent an extra night in their hospital bed than they needed to.

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Across the North East on average just under half (45%) of patients ready to leave hospital endure another night on the wards.

Neil Jarvis, Durham County Council’s deputy director of integrated commissioning, said: “In County Durham, we currently have sufficient capacity for care home spaces and Intermediate Care short term rehabilitation beds which can meet the needs of the majority of people transferred from hospital

“However, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust supports patients from multiple areas, not just across County Durham and Darlington, and there are varying factors which can influence the discharge process. These include increases in demand linked to the number of people in hospitals, the complexity of a person’s needs and whether they require additional specialist care, and the choice of a care home by the person and their family

“For every individual, we work closely with partners, care providers, and families to ensure each person receives care which best meets their needs using the capacity that we have to reduce significant delays on discharges.”

Councillor Anne-Marie Curry, Darlington Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Adult Social Care, said: “The council has two social workers based in hospitals, with a focus on supporting timely and safe discharges for patients.

"This enables close working with clinical staff due to being based in the acute setting. Our Responsive intervention, assessment and care team (RIACT) successfully supports hospital discharges, referrals to the reablement service and, where required, bed-based provision.

"We work effectively with partners to support people to be discharged appropriately and with the care and support they need.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “It is vital people receive the right care in the right place, and we are working to ensure patients are discharged safely from hospital, as soon as they are medically fit to do so.

“A record £1.6 billion investment is supporting this, on top of the £700 million to ease hospital pressures over last winter and the £42.6 million fund to support innovation in adult social care.

 “To further bolster the workforce, we are continuing our Made With Care recruitment campaign – designed to reach millions of people – and the average pay for care workers has also increased.

“Staff retention is equally as important, which is why we are also investing almost £2 billion over two years to help councils support the workforce.”

In England about 13,000 patients are stuck in hospital each night when they could be elsewhere.