Scandal of NHS patients sent home in the middle of the night to 'free up hospital beds'
Some 3.5 per cent of all hospital discharges took place between 11pm and 6am
08:27 GMT, 12 April 2012
Hundreds of thousands of patients are being sent home from hospital in the middle of the night to relieve pressure on beds, a report has found.
Some 3.5 per cent of all hospital discharges took place between 11pm and 6am, a rate that has held steady for the last five years, according to data collected from Freedom of Information requests.
All 170 NHS hospital trusts in England were contacted, asking for details of patients discharged between those hours.
Night watch: Some patients complained they were discharged between 11pm and 6am with no warning and not even time to phone relatives
Some 100 trusts responded, saying that 239,233 patients had been sent home at that time last year. Hospital managers conceded discharging patients this late could be an 'under the radar' way of freeing beds.
If all other trusts were discharging at
similar rates, this would add up to 400,000 such discharges every year,
almost 8,000 a week.
HOSPITALS WITH HIGHEST PERCENTAGE OF OVERNIGHT DISCHARGES
Heart of England
Countess of Chester
Norfolk & Norwich
Rates varied between 8.7 per cent for Derby hospitals and below one per cent, according to The Times who made the requests.
Newcastle and Southend hospitals claimed they never did it.
It quoted patient campaigners saying that the elderly were often worst affected as they are abruptly sent home to empty houses without proper planning.
The medical director of the NHS has promised action following the report.
Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, said: 'I am concerned to hear that some patients may be being discharged unnecessarily late.
'Patients should only be discharged when it's clinically appropriate, safe and convenient for them and their families.
'It is simply not fair to be sending people home late at night. We will look at this.'
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association said she had heard reports of patients turfed out with no warning.
'Patients complain to us that they are sometimes not even given time to phone relatives to let them know what is happening,' she said.
Hospitals discharge vulnerable patients in their pyjamas
A 94-year-old man discharged alone at 1am and an 80-year-old man sent home wearing just pyjamas, who died several hours later, are two examples of worrying night-time discharges on a patients' feedback website.
A whistleblower, describing herself as a “staff member”, wrote about three cases of elderly patients being sent home “in the middle of the night” from the Diana Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby.
Writing on the Patient Opinion website, where patients and medical staff write about good and bad experiences, the woman wrote: '(1) An 82-year-old lady fell and broke her wrist, she was taken to A&E and it was x-rayed and set in a pot.
'The lady was sent home at 3am to her flat where she lived alone. The lady had no relatives and was expected to manage all alone with no care.
'(2) A 94-year-old gentleman was sent home from hospital at 1am after being taken in earlier by ambulance with breathing problems, on arrival back at his flat it became clear that he could not get out of car without his wheelchair, that was locked in his flat on the 10th floor.
'The taxi driver refused to go and get it and a support officer from the building had to be called out.
'(3) An 80-year-old gentleman was sent home in the early hours of the morning after suffering chest pains.
'The staff of A&E felt it was appropriate to give the gentleman morphine and put him in a taxi with just a thin pair of pyjamas. The gentleman died several hours later of a heart attack.'
One patient in the Isle of Wight wrote that he was treated well in hospital but criticised the discharge procedure in which he was sent home barefoot.
'After a period of observation while my condition stabilised I was told I was fit for discharge at 4.30am,' he wrote.
'I was barefoot in my night clothes and had no money, having been brought in by ambulance.
'The buses weren't running and I eventually had to go home by taxi and pay a 40 fare as I live in West Wight.
'I think more consideration could be made to discharging people in the middle of the night who have no transport and are not clothed appropriately as it was very undignified.'