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8,000 NHS patients a week discharged in the middle of the night to 'free up beds'

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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Figures released recently suggest that almost 8,000 NHS patients a week are sent home from hospital in the middle of the night, amid claims the practice is being used to relieve pressure within the Health Service.

The figures obtained by the Times, under Freedom of Information requests, highlight the practice which many campaigners believe is often targeted at the ‘elderly and vulnerable’, to be widespread throughout the Health Service.

100 out of the 170 Hospital Trusts in England responded to the request revealing that nearly 240,000 patients were sent home between 11 pm and 6 am last year alone. This figure accounts for a total of 3.5% of all hospital discharges. If this number is extrapolated out across the country, it suggests that more than 400,000 discharges between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am are made in the NHS every year, equivalent to almost 8,000 every week.

One reason for the practice which appears to be on the rise is an ever-increasing demand for an ever-decreasing number of beds as the efficiency savings continue to take their toll on the already stretched National Health Service.

Sir Bruce Keogh, the Medical Director of the NHS warned hospitals to avoid late night discharges as he launched an internal inquiry into the causes of the practice and solutions to reduce the numbers involved.  He stressed, “Patients should only be discharged when it is clinically appropriate, safe and convenient for them and their families, and it is simply not fair to be sending people home late at night”. He will meet medical directors of Strategic Health Authorities this month to check on their progress.

It is to be hoped that Sir Bruce Keogh’s instructions will be rigorously applied and enforced throughout the 170 NHS Trusts in the country in order to protect patients from this controversial practice which ultimately puts patients’ lives at an unnecessary risk.

By clinical negligence specialist, Paul Burrows