• Discharge rates should be ‘at a similar’ level at weekends as on weekdays, says Tory manifesto
  • Policy continues direction of travel set out by seven day services agenda
  • Senior expert warns policy would require substantial additional resource

New targets for NHS trusts to discharge emergency admissions “at a similar” rate at weekends as on weekdays will be a key priority if the party wins the general election, a senior party source has told HSJ.

The Conservative manifesto, published on 18 May, says: “We will also ensure hospitals can discharge emergency admissions at a similar rate at weekends as on weekdays, so that when someone is medically fit to leave hospital, they can, whichever day of the week it is.”

A senior party source did not provide details about how targets for individual trusts would be set, or how targets would be directly used and published, but they did tell HSJ the new target was viewed as a priority at the top of the Department of Health.

The pledge continues in the direction of travel set out by the Conservative’s overarching “seven day services” agenda. But following the £2bn injection of new funding into adult social care in the March budget, delayed discharges are very much a political as well as operational imperative.

The drive will also aim to tie in with a pledge set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View Next Steps to drive down the length of stay of patients who come into hospital as emergency admissions, metrics for which are due to be unveiled in July.

One senior policy expert told HSJ that while “no one wanted to see anyone spend any longer in hospital than was strictly necessary”, such a policy would require a wide range of additional services adding at weekends, including “pharmacy, transport and radiology” services.

The source said: “This won’t be delivered by giving a few quid to social care providers [as set out in the budget]. The bottleneck at weekends is often due to internal hospital issues, rather than integration [with social care]…Like decision making, and there not being a senior medic around until Monday [to sign off the discharge].”

The source added that more detail would be required before the pledge’s credibility could be properly assessed.