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J Health Serv Res Policy. 2006 Jan;11(1):52-8.

All dressed up but nowhere to go? Delayed hospital discharges and older people.

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Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham, Park House, 40 Edgbaston Park Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2RT, UK.



Delayed hospital discharges are a key concern in a number of industrialized nations and are the subject of a range of government initiatives in the English National Health Service. The aim of this paper was to review the UK literature on delayed hospital discharges and older people in order to identify and explore the rate and causes of delayed hospital discharges, together with policies and practices that may reduce delayed discharges and improve the experiences of older people.


Literature review based on searches of major health/social-care databases. Sources which explore the rate and cause of delayed discharges in the UK were included. Relevant documents were categorized using the research hierarchy set out in the National Service Framework for Older People and analysed according to criteria for appraising the quality of qualitative research proposed by Mays et al.


The review identified 21 studies, which suggest very different rates and causes of delayed discharge in different settings. The studies reveal the importance of rehabilitation services to reduce the rate of delayed discharge, the prevalence of delayed discharges caused by internal hospital factors, and the complex and multi-faceted nature of the factors contributing to delayed discharge. Despite this, the studies have a number of methodological flaws and often fail to include a patient perspective or to consider detailed policies and approaches to reduce the number of delayed discharges. There is also a failure to consider the needs of older people with mental health problems or people from minority ethnic communities.


The evidence, as it currently stands, raises a number of issues about current hospital discharge policy, supporting some aspects of the current government agenda in England, but questioning other aspects.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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