1 in 6 patients in hospital medically fit to leave

New QualityWatch analysis explores delays in hospital discharge.

Press release

Published: 10/03/2023

Data analysis by the Nuffield Trust, published as part of the QualityWatch programme with the Health Foundation, has shed new light on the thousands of people ready to leave hospital but delayed in doing so in England.  


The analysis, based on Freedom of Information data, reveals that:  

  • As of December 2022, one in six patients (15%) – over 13,000 people – were in hospital due to delayed discharge. 

  • The numbers of patients held up in hospital for three weeks or more when they’re ready to leave have grown from an average of 2,350 patients in October 2020 to 6,390 patients in December 2022. 

  • The length of time patients are delayed has increased in the last year – in December 2022 we estimate that people in hospital for over three weeks were delayed for an additional 21 days on average (nine days more than in December 2021) 

The analysis also looks at reasons for people being delayed, showing that: 

  • Just under a quarter of patients in hospital for seven or more days are delayed for reasons which can be broadly grouped as being about the discharge process in the hospital – they have been identified as medically fit for discharge, but need further assessment, a discharge summary, or agreement on what further care they need. 

  • Another 25% are waiting for a care package at home – this could be for community health services, social care or both.   

  • A further 22% are waiting for a short-term bed, for example for rehabilitation.   

  • And a further 18% are waiting for a permanent bed in a care or nursing home. 

Commenting on the data, Dr Sarah Scobie, Deputy Director of Research at the Nuffield Trust said:  

“Month after month we see performance figures from the NHS showing how long people are waiting to get admitted to hospital or see a specialist. But there is much less routine data on the other side of the story: people who are ready to leave hospital but can’t get out. Our figures shed light on this issue, revealing a complex mix of problems including delayed hospital discharge processes, a lack of NHS community services and more well-known problems in social care.”  


Notes to editors

The Nuffield Trust is an independent health think tank. We aim to improve the quality of health care in the UK by providing evidence-based research and policy analysis and informing and generating debate. For all queries, or to arrange an interview, contact press.office@nuffieldtrust.org.uk