The summer heatwave had a “winter effect” on the NHS in Lancashire and probably accounts for a recent increase in delays to hospital discharges, a committee of councillors has heard.
Lancashire County Council’s health scrutiny committee was told that the scorching temperatures had put hospitals under unseasonal pressure, resulting in a slight reversal in an overall trend for a reduction in so-called delayed transfers of care (DTOCs).
In the 12 months to August 2018, the DTOC rate - which measures the number of unnecessary days spent in hospital by patients who are medically fit to leave - fell by almost 32 per cent across Lancashire, excluding the standalone council areas in Blackpool and Blackburn.
But the figures have steadily increased since the beginning of the summer and were more than seven per cent higher by the end of August than they were in June. Although the position for individual NHS trusts varies, all five acute providers in the county have recorded an increase since April.
Sue Lott, a manager in the adult social care department at Lancashire County Council, told members that services were still recovering from a difficult winter when summer hit.
“Hospitals experienced particular challenges in August - so there's been no let up in the pressures, with high attendances and real complexity of needs for people in hospital,” she said.
Ailsa Brotherton, director of Continuous Improvement at the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals, said that the summer months are usually a quieter time on the wards, meaning staff holidays do not have such an impact.
“Because we don’t often have such a long, hot summer, demand is not normally the same as in winter - but on some days it was just as [busy],” she said.
The meeting also heard that new national guidance designed to identify patients who had been in hospital for more than three weeks could have had an impact on the DTOC figures. Meanwhile, members were told that early indications suggested that the data due to be released for September would show an improvement.
But a row broke out between the current Conservative chair of the committee, Peter Britcliffe, and his Labour predecessor Steve Holgate.
County Coun Holgate, who recently described Tory committee members as “nodding dogs”, put forward a recommendation that the "deterioration" in delays over the summer be noted.
But County Coun Britcliffe said he was choosing not to look on the “downside” - and instead welcomed what he described as “a very positive set of statistics”.
“I would have thought the important thing was the comparison with last year,” he added.
County Coun Holgate’s motion was defeated, while County Coun Britcliffe’s proposal - which praised the “commitment and contribution” of NHS and county council staff, was passed.