Hospital bed

Patient safety compromised by failures in discharge process

A report released by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman details how hospitals are failing patients by discharging them before they are ready.

In 2014-15 221 complaints were investigated by the PHSO on this issue – an increase of over a third in the previous year. The Ombudsman upheld, or partly upheld over half of these.

The report identifies, among others, 4 serious issues faced by patients:

  • Patients being discharged before they are clinically ready to leave hospital
  • Patients not being assessed or consultant properly before their discharge
  • Relatives and carers not being told that their loved one has been discharged
  • Patients being discharged with no home-care plan in place or being kept in hospital due to poor co-ordination across services

The guidance on discharge planning is clear, yet the Ombudsman has seen obvious examples of trusts and local authorities failing to put it into practice. Clearly patient safety is compromised when people are discharged before they are clinically ready however failing to implement the proper care required following discharge has also lead to failures.

This causes avoidable distress for patients, their families and carers. The report details tragic real life cases which the Ombudsman has dealt with where discharges have not been properly handled or care following discharge has not been adequately implemented and those failures have caused otherwise avoidable distress, suffering and even death of the people involved.

The Ombudsman recommends 3 areas which need particular attention; checking people’s mental capacity and offering legal protection for those lacking capacity; treating carers and relatives as partners in the discharge planning process and improving co-ordination within and between services. Failures in these areas severely undermine trust and confidence in the NHS.

Recognising the need for change, the Department of Health has established a national programme to develop a vision for improving discharge processes and aftercare. As the Ombudsman’s report concludes, in developing this vision the Department of Health and its partners should

assess the scale of the problems highlighted, identify the reason they are happening and take appropriate action so that all people experience acceptable standards of care on leaving hospital”.

If you or your family have been affected by any issues regarding clinical negligence, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist clinical negligence team on 0800 316 8892 who will be able to advise you further.