Published: 09/05/2002, Volume II2, No. 5804 Page 4

The true extent of delayed discharges is being distorted by the differing definitions being used by NHS organisations, the House of Commons health select committee is expected to be told this week.

Vice chair of the NHS Alliance Chris James was due to appear before MPs at the hearing on Wednesday.

His main message will be that 'efficient and effective' care for the majority of patients in hospital would probably have a bigger impact on freeing up capacity than simply concentrating management and financial resources on 'reducing the time to discharge for a few [bed blockers]'.

But speaking before the meeting he called for the introduction of a national definition of what constitutes a delayed discharge.

Dr James told HSJ he knew of one health community where the health authority defined a delayed discharge as when a medically fit patient could not be discharged within seven calendar days. But organisations working with the HA worked to a definition of seven working days.

And he said that although other health communities agreed on their definition of what constituted a delayed discharge, it was 'unlikely' that these definitions were shared with neighbouring health communities.

'It makes proper benchmarking against national average lengths of stay impossible. You do not get an accurate picture of what is going on and you can't identify areas which can benefit from help.

You also can't make comparisons between different social service departments, acute trusts and commissioners of care.'