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NHS probes night discharge

Newspaper says hospitals are discharging patients to free beds

Mark Gould

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh has promised to investigate revelations by The Times newspaper that hospitals are discharging many patients overnight to free up beds.

Using Freedom of Information request The Times says it discovered that 100 NHS trusts sent 239,233 patients home last year between 23:00 and 06:00. The paper contacted some 170 NHS trusts with the same request but only 100 responded.

While the rates of those discharged varied widely between different hospitals The Times said that some 3.5% of all hospital discharges took place overnight and in the early morning and that the rate had held steady for the past five years. However many trusts said their data was not reliable and that in some cases women who had a baby and chose to leave, and patients who had died were included in their returns.

The paper extrapolated that if the remaining 70 trusts discharged their patients at similar rates, this would add up to 400,000 such discharges a year and almost 8,000 a week.

Derby Hospitals Foundation Trust sent 8.7% of its patients home overnight but the trust told The Times there may have been a problem with its records.

Others with rates above 7% include the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust in Birmingham and Countess of Chester and University Hospitals of Leicester Trusts.

Newcastle Hospitals Foundation Trust and Southend University Hospital Foundation Trust both said they did not discharge patients during the night.

However, in response, Sir Bruce said: "I am concerned to hear that some patients may be being discharged unnecessarily late.

"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."

Dr Mark Porter, of the British Medical Association, said the figures illustrated the "enormous pressure" the health service was under.

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