Characteristics and mortality rates among patients requiring intermediate care: a national cohort study using linked databases

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Background: Adults increasingly live and die with chronic progressive conditions into advanced age. Many live with multimorbidity and an uncertain illness trajectory with points of marked decline, loss of function and increased risk of end of life. Intermediate care units support mainly older adults in transition between hospital and home to regain function and anticipate and plan for end of life. This study examined the patient characteristics and the factors associated with mortality over 1 year post-admission to an intermediate care unit to inform priorities for care. Methods: A national cohort study of adults admitted to intermediate care units in England using linked individual-level Hospital Episode Statistics and death registration data. The main outcome was mortality within 1 year from admission. The cohort was examined as two groups with significant differences in mortality between main diagnosis of a non-cancer condition and cancer. Data analysis used Kaplan-Meier curves to explore mortality differences between the groups and a time-dependant Cox proportional hazards model to determine mortality risk factors. Results: The cohort comprised 76,704 adults with median age 81 years (IQR 70–88) admitted to 220 intermediate care units over 1 year in 2016. Overall, 28.0% died within 1 year post-admission. Mortality varied by the main diagnosis of cancer (total n = 3680, 70.8% died) and non-cancer condition (total n = 73,024, 25.8% died). Illness-related factors had the highest adjusted hazard ratios [aHRs]. At 0–28 days post-admission, risks were highest for non-cancer respiratory conditions (pneumonia (aHR 6.17 [95%CI 4.90–7.76]), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (aHR 5.01 [95% CI 3.78–6.62]), dementia (aHR 5.07 [95% CI 3.80–6.77]) and liver disease (aHR 9.75 [95% CI 6.50–14.6]) compared with musculoskeletal disorders. In cancer, lung cancer showed largest risk (aHR 1.20 [95%CI 1.04–1.39]) compared with cancer ‘other’. Risks increased with high multimorbidity for non-cancer (aHR 2.57 [95% CI 2.36–2.79]) and cancer (aHR 2.59 [95% CI 2.13–3.15]) (reference: lowest). Conclusions: One in four patients died within 1 year. Indicators for palliative care assessment are respiratory conditions, dementia, liver disease, cancer and rising multimorbidity. The traditional emphasis on rehabilitation and recovery in intermediate care units has changed with an ageing population and the need for greater integration of palliative care.

Original languageEnglish
Article number48
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This report is independent research supported by the Health Education England and the National Institute of Health Research (HEE/NIHR Senior Clinical Lectureship, Dr. Catherine Evans, ICA-SCL-2015-01-001). WG is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration South London (NIHR ARC South London) at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the National Institute of Health Research or the Department of Health and Social Care.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Cohort studies
  • Geriatrics
  • Health services for the aged
  • Intermediate care facilities
  • Mortality
  • Palliative care
  • Subacute care


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