The NHS medical director has recently written to Strategic Health Authorities saying it is unacceptable to send people home when they may have no family support. This is in response to recent figures published by The Times newspaper stating that 100 NHS trusts sent 239,233 patients home overnight (between 11pm and 6 am) in 2011.
The patients most adversely affected by these overnight discharges are obviously the elderly and those living alone without any support. It is clearly unacceptable for these patients to be sent home in the early hours of the morning, in order to create more beds for the hospital.
Many people are concerned that overnight discharges could rise as NHS budgets are cut. In addition, admission to A & E units continue to rise which clearly puts more pressure on beds in hospitals which are usually normally running at a nearly 100% capacity.
However, these figures may actually seem worse than they actually are and need to be interpreted with caution. Some hospitals include patients who have died overnight in their figures and others include women who have had a baby who request to go home overnight. It is therefore hard to know the exact proportion of patients who are unsafely and inappropriately being discharged overnight from hospital.
Although most hospitals are now under extreme pressure for their beds, it is really important that patients are only discharged home overnight if appropriate and they have the necessary support at home for them.