26 September 2023

Audit uncovers long-term hospital stays

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A performance audit report has concluded that major benefits could be gained in the State’s hospitals by reducing the number of people spending extra weeks, months or years stranded in them, sometimes when the patient no longer requires hospital-level care.

Tabled in Parliament by Auditor General, Caroline Spencer, the report Management of Long Stay Patients in Public Hospitals found that despite the extra times for attention, WA Health’s data on long stays were “not robust or effectively used”.

Ms Spencer said the Department of Health, as system manager, did not know in real time how many patients remained in hospital or when they were medically fit for discharge.

“Therefore, the Department has limited understanding of the cost and impact on hospital bed capacity and patient flow,” Ms Spencer said.

“Without reliable data and a determined focus on continuous improvement, WA Health will struggle to recognise and effectively address underlying systemic issues and make well-evidenced value-for-money investments,” she said.

She said recent estimates from Health Service Providers suggested that at least 6.5 per cent of patients in hospital beds no longer needed hospital care.

“Our analysis of snapshots between May 2021 and June 2022 revealed that nearly 500 patients waiting for National Disability Insurance Scheme or aged care services had spent approximately 40,000 extra days in hospital after being medically ready for discharge, at a cost of almost $95 million,” Ms Spencer said.

“Freeing up that capacity could potentially have provided hospital access for over 14,000 more people and reduced the cost of caring for the long-stay patients by $71.8 million.”

Ms Spencer said that collaboration over the past 18 months between WA Health, the Department of Communities and the Mental Health Commission – and recent announcements from the Commonwealth Government on aged and disability care – indicated the timing was opportune for change.

“I encourage the Department of Health to work closely with all entities to better help those people for whom a hospital bed is somewhere to wait rather than get well,” she said.

The 28-page audit report can be accessed at this PS News link and the audit team was Jason Beeley, Andrew Harris, Kim Payne, Ben Travia and Tina Trichet.

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