Challenges in discharging patients creating severe bottlenecks in hospital care

Sarah Scobie responds to new data on hospital discharges published today with the latest NHS performance statistics.

Press release

Published: 09/12/2021

Responding to new data on hospital discharges published today with the latest NHS performance stats, Nuffield Trust Deputy Director of Research Sarah Scobie said:

“Data published today for the number of patients discharged from hospitals shows that just as we enter winter, the NHS is already struggling to get people who are medically fit out of hospital fast enough. Failure to discharge patients into appropriate care makes it harder to admit patients in an emergency, slows patient recovery, reduces the number of planned operations being carried out, and puts additional pressure on staff.

“Looking at patients in hospitals with major A&E departments on 30th November, only half of patients who meet the NHS’s criteria for being ready to leave hospital were discharged, and that fell to only one in seven of people who had been in hospital for more than three weeks. The difficulties in getting patients out of hospital are not helped by the extremely fragile social care sector and the deepening staff shortages across care settings.

“These difficulties are leading to a ripple effect throughout hospitals. In performance statistics for November, we see severe bottlenecks in emergency care as the number of patients seeking care remains close to pre-pandemic levels. The number of patients waiting more than 12 hours for a hospital bed after a decision was made to admit them reached 10,646, five times greater than November 2020, and shows the amount of strain NHS staff are under as they try and find the beds and staff to meet this demand. This increased demand, on top of efforts to catch up on the growing waiting list and provide continuing and growing need for Covid care, illustrates the weight of pressure on staff.

“While hospitals remain so congested it is hard to see how the system will be able to free up beds to cope with another possible spike in Covid-19 admissions driven by the Omicron variant without significantly throwing the NHS’s plans to tackle a waiting list, now just shy of 6 million people, off course.”

Notes to editors

  1. The latest monthly combined performance figures from NHS England can be found at:
  2. The Covid-19 Daily Discharge Situation Report is available here.
  3. 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.
  4. For all queries or to arrange an interview, contact Simon Keen: 07780 475571/; or Meesha Patel: 07920 043676 /