Healthwatch England, an independent consumer champion for health and social care in England, has warned that dementia sufferers are being sent from hospital to homes without heating or food. Its research has found that elderly patients are sometimes being discharged from wards in the middle of the night, with some hospitals discharging one in 10 patients outside daylight hours in order to free up beds. Healthwatch England said that tens of thousands of incidents could be avoided if more care and attention was paid to the safe discharge of patients and ensuring suitable care is in place.
The Daily Telegraph reports that this is the first national inquiry into the way patients are discharged from wards and will hear evidence from 148 of Healthwatch England’s local community groups about failings to discharge patients safely from hospital wards. The inquiry comes in the wake of last year’s official NHS figures showing that more than one million patients were re-admitted to hospital as an emergency within a month of being sent home. This is a rise of more than one quarter in a decade, with an estimated cost to the NHS of around £2.4 billion. The inquiry will hear from patients put at risk by unsafe discharges, focusing on care of the elderly, those with mental health conditions and the homeless.
Commenting on the report, Lucie Prothero, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “We welcome this inquiry by Healthwatch England. Too often we see cases where elderly or dementia patients have been discharged from hospital too soon or with inadequate planning. This can have devastating consequences such as incidents of catastrophic falls which worsen the individual’s health. This can lead to the loss of community living and, ultimately, places a greater burden on our over-stretched health and social care systems. We hope this inquiry will shine a light on where discharge planning is going wrong so that the elderly and the vulnerable are better protected against avoidable poor outcomes.”