Figures have emerged, exposing hospitals discharging their patents in the middle of the night in order to free up beds.
The Times put in a freedom of information request to access NHS information, which showed astonishing figures that 239,233 patients had been discharged between 11pm and 6am last year. Hospital managers told The Times that sending patients home overnight was an underhand method for relieving pressure on beds.
3.5% of all hospital discharges took place between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am. Derby Hospitals Foundation Trust sent 8.7% of its patients home overnight; the trust told the times that there could have been a problem with their figures. Other hospitals with high record were: Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust in Birmingham and Diana Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby. Newcastle Hospitals Foundation Trust and Southend hospital claimed they never sent patents home during the night.
It has since emerged that a 94-year-old man was discharged alone from hospital at 1:00 am as well as an 80 year old man sent home in his pyjamas who died just several hours later, other stories are now emerging online from other nurses.
Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, told The Times that he will now investigate the issue of late-night discharges. Sir Bruce said: “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.”
The NHS have defended themselves against the claims, but do admit that some individual patients’ stories do support the case that some are being discharged wrongly at night to free up beds. However they do go on to say on their website that not all night-time discharges will be inappropriate. A small proportion of patients will always leave hospital at night for a variety of legitimate reasons, as some news sources have highlighted:
- Alcohol-related admissions: binge drinking is thought to cause over a million NHS hospitalisations each year, and drunk patients attending A&E may sometimes be transferred to wards so their health can be monitored. They may be discharged or choose to leave at night once they are more sober.
- Births: women who give birth to healthy babies often have no need to remain in hospital, and may choose to return home soon after their delivery rather than staying in hospital for the rest of the night.
- Cleared emergencies: patients brought in at night for suspected emergencies can sometimes be briefly booked into wards for checks and tests. Once it is considered safe for patients to return home they may be discharged the same night.
- Record-keeping practices: the way discharges are recorded in hospitals may not be totally accurate. For example, discharges recorded on paper might be keyed into computer systems at quieter periods such as night-time, suggesting a late-night discharge. Also, errors might occur when entering discharge times.
- Deaths: some hospital record systems count a patient as discharged if they die while in hospital. Therefore the figures are likely to include a number of patient deaths recorded during the seven-hour period from 11pm to 6am.
The NHS statement concludes that “overall, while there is evidence that inappropriate late-night admission does occur in the NHS, it is hard to judge the scale of the problem without more revealing data. Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, has said he will investigate the matter.”