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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 January 2007, 01:42 GMT
Many hospital stays 'waste money'
Doctor with an elderly patient
Shortening hospital stays could help cut waiting times
Keeping NHS patients in hospital too long takes up the equivalent of 13,000 beds a year and costs 1bn, a think tank has estimated.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says the bed space and money could be saved if more care was provided outside hospital.

Cutting the number of locations where specialist services are offered would also help, it said.

The Department of Health said parts of the NHS could be more efficient.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but a better NHS will be one with fewer hospital beds overall
Richard Brooks, IPPR

The IPPR report uses figures from the independent NHS Institute for Innovation & Improvement, with additional analysis by Dr Foster Intelligence.

It estimates that the cost of excess hospital stays is around 975m per year and that on average most hospitals are using more than 60 beds to keep patients in longer than they need to.

The report argues that some of the extra bed space could be used to reduce waiting times, while other beds could be closed and the savings spent treating patients elsewhere in the local health system.

It says making the changes would improve patient safety and access to healthcare in and outside hospitals making the NHS more efficient able to provide the same level of care to everyone.

'Not every closure is bad'

Richard Brooks, associate director of the IPPR, said: "It may sound counter-intuitive, but a better NHS will be one with fewer hospital beds overall.

"If local communities oppose every hospital change we won't get the health service we deserve. Not every hospital bed closure is a bad thing."

He added: "Hospitals should change for health reasons, not because of short-term cost-cutting.

"This means some specialist services being provided in fewer places, continued reductions in the average length of hospital stay and more care taking place outside hospitals."

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt said: "The NHS is treating more people more quickly than ever before, but there are still parts of the system that can and should be far more efficient in speeding up the patient journey.

"Cutting the variation between hospitals in patients' length of stay means patients can leave when they are clinically ready, freeing up capacity and time to deal with new patients coming in.

"This improves services for patients but will also help the NHS to save thousands of bed days a year."

Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the British Medical Association's Consultants' Committee, said senior doctors were continually looking to match servcies to patient need.

"Currently too much change is solely based on short term finances not long term sustainable quality patient care as envisaged in this report.

"As the report highlights many of the barriers to change are political not clinical.

"This is a serious criticism of politicians of all parties who need to stop playing politics with hospital services and listen to clinicians and the public to properly match care to patient needs."

The author of the report explains the findings


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