HEALTH bosses in Gwent are aiming to improve performance across a range of issues – including lengths of stay in hospital, and day surgery – to ‘best in Wales’ status and beyond.

Such improvements would help Aneurin Bevan Health Board to reduce the number of beds it needs in its hospitals, while cutting the amount of time patients need to be in hospital for routine and emergency treatments.

It could also help rebalance bed occupancy rates, enabling hospitals to cope in busy times.

Figures suggest the biggest opportunity for cutting lengths of hospital stays involves emergency cases where patients stay more than 60 days.

The average stay for such patients, who are mainly elderly, is 15 days more in Gwent than the ‘best in Wales’ rate which equates to around 100 beds.

A report on the issue, part of the health board’s integrated medium term plan, stresses links with councils and the voluntary and charitable sectors are vital to strengthening the care available for elderly patients to enable them to leave hospital earlier.

The average length of stay in a community hospital bed in Gwent is 38.6 days, and the aim is to reduce this to 24.6 days by the end of 2016/17.

Reducing referral rates to specialists to ‘best in Wales’ levels in 11 major specialties would cut the number of referrals by around 40,000 a year, according to the report, which could in turn reduce the demand for treatment and by consequence, waiting lists and waiting times.

The challenge will be to create alternatives to referral into hospitals, reducing outpatient appointments.

The use of technology to run ‘virtual’ clinics, is being explored, and increased access to advice-only services will be necessary too, to minimise the need for outpatient consultations that may ultimately be found to have been avoidable.

The latter however, will require the development of new referral pathways, different to those for an outpatient consultation.

There are also plans to improve rates of day surgery.