Early NHS Discharges Considered ‘Unsafe’

30th October 2014

The parliamentary and health service ombudsman has stated that patients are being discharged from NHS hospitals too early, in some cases when it is unsafe for them to do so. According to Dame Julie Mellor, the failures are putting a huge cost on the NHS with regards to emergency readmissions, as well as placing patients at serious risk. Dame Julie says that early discharges, along with other major failings such as missed diagnoses of cancer, are having a devastating effect on patients and their loved ones.

The Labour party have said the failures are evidence that the NHS are not heading in the right direction, and have warned that hospitals are severely understaffed, despite the extremely high volume of patients. Dame Julie says that while it’s not possible to draw conclusions about the whole NHS from individual cases, in some occurrences the decision to wrongly discharge patients might have been affected by considering the implications of cost. She told reporters that she is increasingly concerned about the unsafe discharging of patients from hospitals, and that she knows that unplanned admissions and readmissions are a huge cost for the NHS. The parliamentary and health service ombudsman (PHSO) is the final port of call for patients who want to file a complaint about England’s NHS services.

Along with growing concern about the safety of patients following the Mid Staffordshire care scandal, the PHSO’s office have investigated 2199 cases in 2013 and 2014, in comparison to just 384 in 2012. The latest publication reviews investigations into the 126 complaints against the NHS that relate to healthcare, and the 35 that relate to issues with governance, carried out in the first 3 months of this financial year. One of the main areas of concern was unsafe hospital discharges.

In one case at the A&E department of Bedford Hospital NHS Trust, a man was sent home after reporting symptoms of nausea and vomiting as well as being unable to go to the toilet for 3 days. The day after his A&E visit, the man was admitted to hospital, where it was revealed through surgery that he had suffered a total loss of blood supply to his bowel. In a different case at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, a patient who had been suffering from pains in the chest was sent home without a medication review or the arrangement of any follow-up care. A week after he was discharged, he went on holiday abroad and became unwell, and later died having suffered a stroke and a heart attack. Although it’s unclear whether or not the patient would have survived if the failings hadn’t taken place, the ombudsman have said that he hadn’t had the opportunity to make choices for himself to receive treatment that could have saved his life. The Department of Health would like the PHSO to investigate more cases, in the hopes that patient care will be improved.