Patients sent home 'too soon'

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The Independent Online
HUNDREDS of patients are being discharged from hospital too soon because of pressure on beds and budgets as a result of the health service changes, according to a survey of nursing staff, writes Liz Hunt.

Almost two-thirds of ward sisters and charge nurses say patients are not getting enough recovery time, and one-third claim that there are inadequate care arrangements for some discharged patients. Forty per cent believe that readmission rates - the numbers of patients who have left hospital but soon return - have risen over the past year.

Ten years ago, the average length of stay in hospital was just over eight days; last year the figure was five and a half days. Although advances in medical practice and nursing care have played a role, some doctors and nurses say that shorter stays have increased readmission rates. The Department of Health does not collect data on readmissions.

The survey of 75 ward sisters and charge nurses was conducted for Nursing Standard and Here and Now, a BBC 1 television programme. Dr Abdul Jaleel, a consultant rheumatologist at the Memorial Hospital in Darlington, told the programme he believed pressure on consultants to discharge patients early was a direct result of the National Health Service changes.

'Our ethic now is financial rather than professional. That is not to say that the doctors decide patient discharge on a commercial basis, but there are pressures. Every time consultants make decisions on discharges they must think of the through-put, they must think of the extra number of patients, the income for the hospital if they don't discharge patients fast enough. It's like a conveyor belt.'