More than 200 people died in Northern Ireland’s hospitals in 2018 while waiting to be discharged.
A report by the charity Marie Curie also showed delayed discharges resulted in patients spending thousands of extra days in hospital.
This was despite the patients being declared ready to go home.
The Health and Social Care Board said ensuring all patients were able to either return home or to a community setting was a key priority.
Some of the patients had a terminal illness, such as cancer or a respiratory condition.
Others may have been approaching the natural end of their lives.
In Northern Ireland in 2018
34South Eastern Trust
Source: Marie Curie (using Freedom of Information Act)
Instead of being cared for at home or in the community, the report says 204 people were stuck in hospital and eventually died there.
Freedom of Information requests were sent to all of the five local health trusts.
While there is no breakdown of types of illness and patient, the data may also include those who at the last minute decided not to go home.
Head of policy and public affairs for Marie Curie Northern Ireland, Joan McEwan, expressed disappointment at the findings.
“The local population is getting older and we are seeing more and more people living with terminal illnesses and complex needs,” she said.
“Not only is this resulting in greater numbers of hospital admissions, it is also putting massive additional pressure on community care, which is vital in helping the safe and prompt discharge of patients back home.”
Delayed discharges clog up the system and take up much-needed hospital beds.
The report, Every Minute Matters, highlighted that more than 46,000 bed days were lost across the system.
This dramatically impacts on the day-to-day running of a hospital.
On a more personal note, delayed hospital discharge has a significant impact on terminally ill people, causing distress and frustration, affecting their quality of life and preventing men and women from spending as much time as possible in their own home or community, surrounded by family.
The statistics should not come as a surprise. An older population means more people are being admitted to hospital with multiple chronic illnesses.
Not enough health care workers or home care packages means people cannot leave hospital.
Louise Marshall’s mother, Maureen Patrick, died from cancer in February 2018. The 59-year-old was cared for at home during her final days.
Ms Marshall said it was very important for the whole family that her mother was able to die at home.
“She always said before she went into hospital that she wanted to make sure she was home, to have her family around her in her last days,” she said.
The County Down woman said it also enabled them to say goodbye in familiar surroundings.
“It definitely is a help – we know we fulfilled my mum’s last wishes, she died not afraid and we all got to kiss her and say goodbye,” she said.
Joan McEwan said the lack of an assembly and executive had “stymied” HSC transformation.
According to Marie Curie, both the departments of health and finance should work with stakeholders to scope out potential funding measures for adult social care including long-term strategic funding for health trusts.
Population growth in Northern Ireland has not been matched by increased funding, especially around social care.
Between 2007 and 2017, the number of local people older than 65 grew by more than 25%, while the number of those older than 85 grew by more than 30%.
‘Care and compassion’
In a statement on behalf of the health and social care system, a spokesperson said: “Growing numbers of people are living longer with complex needs and this is why the reform of adult care and support project has been tasked with identifying and implementing necessary reforms to enhance the support available in communities.
“There is also a very strong commitment to ensuring that any patient in the end stages of life is treated with absolute care and compassion.
“Trusts do their utmost to support and prioritise the wishes of patients at the end of life and their families, including facilitating their return to a home or a community setting where it is appropriate to do so.
“The Palliative Care in Partnership initiative in Northern Ireland brings together statutory and community and voluntary sector providers, including Mare Curie, and also service users and carers to improve how patients with palliative care needs are identified and supported, and also seeks to enhance the range of services available.”