'Shocking' stories of unsafe hospital discharges uncovered by national inquiry

Healthwatch England has published a report showing vulnerable patients are being discharged unsafely because of a lack of communication and a fragmented service

Poor communication and coordination between services are leading to unsafe hospital discharges, says a report published today (July 21) by Healthwatch England.

Basic failings in the discharge process, which include not routinely asking vulnerable people if they have a safe place to be discharged to and families not being told loved ones are leaving hospital, are highlighted in the report. 

It is based on the experiences of more than 3,000 vulnerable people who have been through the discharge process and surveyed by Healthwatch England. 

A freedom of information request competed by 120 trusts in May, found 53% did not ask patients if they had essential foods, water and heating at home. 

A YouGov poll of 3,495 adults across England found 26% of those admitted to hospital returned within 28 days.

Examples of poor practice uncovered include an 81-year-old stroke patient who was discharged at 10.30pm and taken home by taxi without his family’s knowledge. He was readmitted with severe health problems the following week.

Many of those who are discharged feel ‘rushed out the door,’ says the report, which also highlights a problem with people not feeling involved in decisions about their care after they leave hospital.

Healthwatch England’s report is based on evidence gathered by 101 of its local branches as part of a special inquiry into problems with hospital discharge.

Healthwatch England chair Anna Bradley said: ‘Throughout the inquiry we have heard shocking stories about what happens when people leave hospital without the right planning and support. In many cases pretty basic things could have made all the difference.’

RCN general secretary Peter Carter said: ‘This thorough report highlights an important issue for the health service. Sadly this will not come as a surprise to nursing staff, who all too often discharge a healthy patient only to see them return to hospital with complications caused by a lack of community care and support.’

‘With the right support in the community and properly resourced staff who can be responsible for coordinating discharge, patients are less likely to return to hospital, relieving pressures on the front line,’ he added.

Dr Carter went on to say there are systemic problems in creating fragmented services that must be examined by health service leaders.

Healthwatch England’s report also includes a number of areas where there is good practice. Among them is a Care Navigators pilot in Waltham Forest, east London, where people with mental health problems are assigned a navigator for 12 to18 months. The navigator ensures the individual attends meetings with practice nurses and GPs who monitor their condition. 

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