A report by the National Audit Office in association with Healthwatch England – the national consumer champion in health and care – has revealed the negative effect that a lack of patient focus and co-ordination between NHS services has had upon patients.
In a number of cases, patients have felt roundly excluded from decisions about their care and have been left without the required support from services on discharge. A YouGov survey found that one in five patients did not feel they were fully involved in decisions concerning hospital treatment, nor did they feel like their voice mattered when planning their discharge.
Excluding patients from discussions about their care and poor co-ordination between services has particularly affected more vulnerable members of society, including the elderly, the homeless and people with mental health problems.
Such patients have reported a lack of communication between different parts of the health system and community support services. Patients have described feeling that they are not being treated with appropriate respect by healthcare workers. They have also described a feeling of stigmatisation, another problem likely to affect the most vulnerable patients.
This has had a serious impact not just on patients individually, but on the healthcare service as a whole. The Healthwatch Report found that the NHS deals with one million emergency re-admissions within 30 days of discharge every year at a cost of £2.4 billion. It also found that 17% of those being re-admitted for the same issue are returning to hospital within just seven days.
Whilst there may be increased costs associated with keeping patients in hospital for longer, the long-term cost of discharging patients who do not have adequate support networks to assist them in their move back home is considerably higher.
People who have shared their stories with Healthwatch England demonstrate the human impact that early discharge can have. One elderly woman described how she was “abandoned” by ambulance drivers whilst still on crutches and was expected to care for her 85-year-old husband who suffers with dementia.
Another woman described how her husband, who had been admitted to hospital following a suicide attempt, was discharged, contrary to his wishes to stay in hospital as he felt unable to cope. The man was discharged with no follow-up care in place and tragically took his own life the following week.
These stories are reflected in the findings of the YouGov survey which discovered that one in eight people did not feel they were able to cope in their own home after being discharged from hospital.
The Healthwatch report and YouGov survey illustrate how pressure on NHS staff to free up beds has led to patient care failings, and widespread patient dissatisfaction with hospital discharge suggests a radical approach is required if patients are to access the services they need.
Hospitals must operate as part of the wider community and their responsibility to patients should not end with “pushing them out of the door.” Staff should communicate with other services in order to ensure that patients being discharged from hospital have the appropriate aftercare and support networks in place when they return home.
There must be a system-wide commitment to putting patients’ needs first if the discharge process is going to improve dramatically. If improvements are not put in place, the NHS expenditure on emergency re-admissions will keep rising and patients will continue to suffer.
Our Hospital Negligence Solicitors can provide immediate legal representation and rehabilitation support anywhere in England, Scotland and Wales and offer hospital and home visits for people who cannot attend one of our offices. Call us for a free consultation on 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.