Thousands of ‘bed days' lost in north's hospitals last year
ALMOST 68,000 `bed days' were lost in hospitals across the north last year due to delays in discharging patients.
Figures published by the Department of Health show a total 67,892 lost days across all 17 hospitals in Northern Ireland.
A bed day is defined as a day during which a patient is confined to a bed and stays overnight.
Bed-blocking, due to discharge delays, has become a growing problem for the system.
Between May 2014 and October 2015, a total of 6,241 patients waited longer than the target 48 hours to be discharged.
This caused the amount of lost bed days to rise.
The Ulster Hospital in Dundonald accounted for a quarter of the total - 17,124 - between April 2015 and March 2016.
The next highest on the list was Antrim Area Hospital, which lost 9,712 days in the same 12-month period.
At the Royal Victoria Hospital 8,840 days were lost due to delays, while at Altnagelvin Area Hospital in Derry the figure was 7,016.
However, as other trusts have not recorded the entirety of their discharge delays the full scale of bed days lost could be thousands more.
The figures were released by health minister Michelle O'Neill following an assembly question tabled by UUP North Down MLA Alan Chambers.
The Department of Health has set a target for Health and Social Care Trusts that 90 per cent of complex discharges from an acute hospital take place within 48 hours, and no complex discharge taking more than seven days.
Ms O'Neill faces a challenge in her new role to bring down the figures, along with waiting times for inpatient admissions.
The 2015/16 ministerial target states that from April 2015, at least 65 per cent of patients should wait no longer than 13 weeks for in-patient or day case treatment, and no patient should wait longer than 26 weeks.
At the end of March 2016 there were 26 per cent (17,601) of patients waiting longer than 26 weeks - 18 per cent (3,812) less than at the end of 2015, but 29 per cent (3,979) more than at March 2015.
A spokesperson for the South Eastern Trust, which has responsibility for the Ulster Hospital, told the Irish News the figures for lost bed days across the north are incomplete.
"To clarify, the South Eastern HSC Trust has 100 per cent of their records coded, whilst other HSC Trusts have a markedly lower percentage of cases coded (65.9 per cent)," they said.