Emergency hospital admissions at the end of life set to sky rocket

We’ve collected new data that for the first time shows the true impact of a failure to significantly improve community care services over the next few years.

The NHS is under pressure

If someone close to you was in the last year of their life, how much of that time would you want them to spend in hospital if they didn’t need to be there?

While clearly some emergency hospital admissions for people near the end of their life are appropriate and necessary, many are not, particularly where good community services are in place.

We’ve written before about why reducing unnecessary emergency admissions to hospital is vastly better for patients and vital to relieving the current pressure on the NHS.

New hospital data

But we now have new data that for the first time shows the true impact of a failure to significantly improve community care services over the next few years.

Read our data briefing

We’ve collected new data that shows on average, people in Britain are admitted to hospital in an emergency 2.92 times in the last year of their life and spend 19.35 days in a hospital bed as a result.

Average days spent in hospital following emergency admissions in last year of life
Average days spent in hospital following emergency admissions in last year of life

In total, there were over 1.6 million emergency admissions for people in the last year of their life in Britain in 2016, costing the NHS £2.5 billion and amounting to around 11 million days in hospital.

Ageing population

Our ageing population means the number of people dying each year is going to go up significantly over the next 20 years. This means the cost of emergency admissions for people in the last year of life could almost double.

These admissions could cost the NHS an extra £2 billion, and up to 8,000 extra hospital beds could be needed by 2038 – the equivalent of an extra ward in every hospital with a major A&E unit, dedicated solely to emergency beds for dying people. 

It doesn’t have to be that way, with the right investment in community services. For instance, research from the Nuffield Trust shows that people who receive support in their homes from Marie Curie Nurses were three times less likely to have an emergency admission at the end of their lives, resulting in lower average costs to the NHS.

Future of the NHS

It is hard to see what clinical reason there can be for every single person dying in Britain (excluding those who die suddenly) to spend three weeks of their last year of life in a hospital bed as a result of one or more emergency admissions. Being rushed repeatedly to hospital is stressful and upsetting for individuals and families, particularly when they may have little time left. A&E should be a last resort, not the first port of call.

Rapidly improving the current situation doesn’t just make sense for patients – it’s critical for the future of the NHS. Our analysis shows the dramatic increase in hospital beds and costs the healthcare system will have to accommodate if nothing changes – or even if improvement continues at its current speed.

If those beds and funds aren’t in place, people in the UK will have to adapt to a radical change in their ability to access hospital care due to overcrowding, as well as their expectations of the quality and extent of their care at the end of their lives not being met.

Have you been affected by issues around emergency hospital admissions at the end of someone's life? If so, sharing your story with us could help us make the case for change. Share your story today.