Patients are being discharged from hospitals in the middle of the night and put in “potentially dangerous” situations, a group of MPs warn today as it calls on Jeremy Hunt to take action.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) said the Health Secretary must step in and reduce the “unacceptably high” incidence of people sent away between 11pm and 6am, which it blamed on political maladministration.
The PACAC was responding to a report in May from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) which highlighted harrowing cases that illustrated the human costs of poor discharge, causing suffering and distress for patients, and anguish for their carers and relatives.
The PHSO, which saw a 36 per cent rise in discharge-related investigations in 2015 – found that some deaths and incidents of suffering could have been prevented if hospitals carried out the right checks before discharging people.
In one case the Ombudsman investigated, a woman in her 80s was discharged from hospital to an empty house, in a confused state with a catheter still in place. Another woman, a grandmother in her late 90s, collapsed and died in her granddaughter’s arms after being discharged from hospital too soon.
Those discharges failures are not isolated incidents but rather examples of problems that patients, relatives and carers are experiencing more widely, the PACAC inquiry found.
They agreed with the Alzheimer’s Society, which gave evidence to the Committee, that night discharges are “potentially dangerous for patients, and detrimental to their carers and relatives”.
The report stated that “pressures on resources and capacity within hospitals are leading to worrying and unsafe discharge practices” and called for person-centred care to be “the undisputed priority” across the NHS.
The report also criticised the lack of integration between health and social care saying the historic split between health and social care means that interdependent services are being managed and funded separately. “We consider this to be political maladministration,” the MPs concluded.
Delays in discharging patients rising
Figures released in August showed that delays in discharging fit patients from hospital have risen 23 per cent since June last year.
PACAC chairman Bernard Jenkin, said: “Hospital staff seem to feel pressured to discharge patients before it is safe to do so. Hospital leadership must reassure their staff that organisational pressures never take priority over person-centred care. And staff need to feel a level of trust and openness that enables them to raise concerns about unsafe discharge.”
Janet Morrison, Chief Executive of Independent Age, the older people’s charity, who also gave evidence to the Committee, said:
“This report paints a damning picture of the management of hospital discharge across many parts of the NHS. We are consistently seeing record numbers of people being kept in hospital unnecessarily because appropriate care services have not been put in place.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Patients should only be discharged from hospital when it’s clinically appropriate and safe for them and their families – and the best way to ensure that is to meaningfully integrate health and social care. We are investing billions to do so over the course of this Parliament to improve the experience of patients, many of whom will be vulnerable.”