Urgent action needed to tackle causes of hospital handover delays

16 June 2022

Responding to a Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) interim report on hospital handover delays, the head of policy and analysis at NHS Providers, Isabel Lawicka, said:

"Hard work by NHS staff is ramping up activity and reducing waiting lists but emergency services continue to be under constant pressure – with hard-pressed ambulance services at the sharp end.

"Too many ambulances are left queuing up to transfer patients to busy A&E departments. A significant driver of these delays actually stems from difficulty in hospitals discharging people who are well enough to go home or to community settings, because of a shortage of capacity in social care and home care.

"Any delay at a hospital front door means that much-needed ambulances can't get back on the streets to respond to 999 calls from critically ill patients.

"This untenable situation shows the serious knock-on effects that the enormous pressure of rising demand outstripping capacity is having on a severely overstretched workforce right across health and care services.

"Handover delays represent a significant risk to patients' safety leading to unnecessary, widespread harm. We need immediate and sustained action to address the system-wide causes.

"The HSIB report is right that hospital and ambulance trusts can affect only what is under their control, and have limited influence over the challenges facing social care. Trusts do everything they can with partners to prevent problems and pressures building up further up the chain – but we need urgent, joined-up action.

"We welcome the HSIB's recommendations, and the whole health and care system must work together with government and national NHS leaders to tackle the root causes of unwanted handover delays, improve the safe flow of patients and ease the burden on ambulance staff."

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