‘Bed blocking’, where medically fit patients are unable to leave hospital, could be costing NHS England up to £900 million a year, according to a new review.

The government-commissioned report by Lord Carter of Coles found that around 8,500 patients who could be discharged are stuck in hospital because care has not been organised in the community. It arrived at the £900 million figure by calculating the cost of staffing and running a bed for each of these patients.

However, this does not take into account the cost of paying private hospitals to do some NHS work, such as knee and hip operations, which can be a consequence of delayed dischargers. The report notes that the NHS’ private sector spend rose 11 percent last year to £11 billion.

The bed blocking findings were part of a larger look at areas where the NHS could make savings. Lord Carter said that up to £5 billion could be saved through better management of staff absence rates, ensuring that all hospitals pay the lowest prices in procurement, better management of estates, and making greater use of generic drugs.

In response to the review, Paul Briddock, Director of Policy at the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA), said: “In our most recent NHS Financial Temperature Check survey of over 200 finance directors they expressed scepticism about Lord Carter’s savings plans with the majority saying they didn’t know if the savings could be achieved. They wanted more clarity on aspects such as where exactly the savings could be made and how feasible the plans were. Today’s report brings us one step closer to getting some answers.

“However, all parties must be mindful of the immense pressure finance directors in the NHS, and their teams, are under. The review and its recommendations must not be used as a stick to further beat them with. We can only bring about change if they are kept engaged. Ensuring the process of implementing Lord Carter’s recommendations is collaborative and open, rather than top down, with the entire healthcare system working together will be vital to this.”