The medical director of the NHS has promised an investigation into hundreds of thousands of patients being sent home from hospital in the middle of the night to free up beds.
The Times newspaper submitted Freedom of Information requests to all 170 hospital trusts in England asking for details of patients discharged between 11pm and 6am.
100 trusts responded to the request, revealing that 239,233 patients had been sent home between these hours last year. This makes up 3.5 per cent of all hospital discharges. If all the trusts were discharging at similar rates this would add up to 400,000 discharges at night every year, nearly 8,000 every week.
Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, 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.”
The rate of discharge between 11pm and 6pm did vary across the trusts. Whilst some hospitals discharged less than 1 per cent at night, Derby Hospitals Foundation Trust reported that it had sent 8.7 per cent of its patients home overnight over the past financial year.
The BBC points out that these figures need putting into context. Some hospitals are including patients who have died in their figures, and some patients may choose to leave at night, like women who have had a baby. David Stout, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said:
“Clearly pressure on beds is a reality in some places. By and large the NHS is coping reasonably well, but there are times of peak admissions where there is real, significant pressure on beds."
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