A hospital is threatening to take legal action to evict mainly elderly patients whose relatives refuse to take them home when they are well enough to leave. An official at Royal Bournemouth Hospital said one family had asked staff to “keep hold” of a relative so they could go on holiday to Turkey for two weeks.
However a recent report by Healthwatch Dorset included comments from patients treated by the same hospital trust who claimed they felt under pressure to leave before they were ready.
Katie Whiteside, clinical manager for discharge services at the hospital, told BBC News: “At the moment, we have relatives coming back telling us they don’t like the decor of care homes, or they don’t like the member of staff who met them at the door. Sometimes they are decorating the house or having a ‘granny annexe’ built and they know that, while the patients are here, they are being fed, watered and looked after.”
On Wednesday, there were 70 people on the wards who did not need to be there and about half had somewhere suitable to be, according to the hospital.
In numbers: the NHS crisis
Patients who are well enough to leave are to be given a week’s notice. Those who did not go would then potentially face legal action.
“We would be in a position to commence legal proceedings and formally evict a patient if that was necessary. It would be an absolute last resort but it’s something we are in a position to do with the solicitors here at the trust,” Ms Whiteside said.
She said seriously ill patients had sometimes had to wait on trolleys or in corridors and operations had been cancelled because of a lack of beds.
Dr Louise Irvine, of the National Health Action Party, who is standing against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt at the next general election, said “the hospital resorting to legal action reflects its desperation”.
“Hospitals throughout the country are being very tightly squeezed financially and suffering cuts in beds so there is very little slack in the system. To make matters worse, hospitals are penalised if they keep on patients for any longer than agreed time-frames,” she said, stressing she could not comment on individual cases.
Jeannett Martin, of the Royal College of Nurses, said: “Clearly, if a person is well enough to leave hospital, then they should not stay there for a prolonged period of time. But rather than condemning individuals as ‘bed-blockers’, we need to look at why they are unable to leave hospital.
“Community health services, and district nursing teams in particular have been cut back over recent years and we know that many are under real strain. If families feel that they cannot cope at home, we need to look at why that is and what support should be available for them and their relative that is in need of care.”
And a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Physicians said: “The most important thing is that everyone acts in the best interests of the patient. We think it isn’t in anyone’s best interest to take legal action against families.”