Headlines: February 20th, 2002

A continuing shortage of hospital beds is revealed in performance information published by the Department of Health. What has now emerged is that the shortage is not only affecting waiting lists, but it is also putting patients at risk through premature discharge from hospital.The increased patient risk is shown in the sharp rise in emergency re-admissions within one month of being discharged. Compared to the previous year re-admissions have risen by 1.7%, but this figure masks wide variations in performance. While the readmission rate is 4% in the best performing hospitals it is up to 9% in others.

The figures also show that the problem of “bed-blocking” is persisting and more than 6% of patients face delays in being discharged from hospital because of problems with care homes and difficulties in providing support services in the home. 200 million pounds has been made available this year to ease the problem.

The performance information provides 80 measures which chart the success of hospitals and shows that overall performance is improving. Quality improvements are shown in the reduced number of people who die within 30 days of surgery and the increased survival rate of patients who undergo treatment for colon, lung and breast cancer.