NHS Alliance concerned over hospital dischargesPatients sent home but GPs in the dark

03 January 2008

patient in bed

Many hospital patients are being put at risk because staff are discharging them without giving vital information to their GP, a health workers campaign group says.

Research by the NHS Alliance, a group which speaks for health professionals, has shown that, over three years, more than half of GPs have seen instances where patient safety has been compromised by late or incomplete discharge information. Almost one in four said there had been such instances in the previous twelve months.

The group said yesterday that new rules which require hospitals to provide GPs with essential information when patients are discharged - intended to ensure patient safety - can be avoided by most foundation trust hospitals.

Discharge information

The rules say hospitals must provide GPs with prompt discharge information, initially within three days of the patient leaving hospital but within 24 hours by 2010.

But foundation trusts with existing three-year contracts - which is most of them - won't have to comply until their current contract runs out. This will create a two-tier system for a critical safety issue, the NHS Alliance says.

The group wants existing contracts to be varied so that all hospitals and secondary care providers have to meet the same standards.

Summaries

NHS Alliance chairman Dr Michael Dixon said: 'It is impossible for GPs to treat patients properly when they do not know the results of diagnostic tests, what treatment has been given in hospital or what medication has been prescribed. Discharge summaries are as much a part of patient care as a surgical procedure or an X-ray. It is unacceptable – and potentially dangerous – to fail to ensure that all patients receive the same standard of care.'

Which? also has concerns about the arrangements for patients when they're sent home from hospital.

Last October – as we launched our Impatient for Change campaign - we called on the regulator, the Healthcare Commission, to review the issue.

Vulnerable

Which? health campaigner Frances Blunden says: 'The organisation of care when people come to leave hospital can be poor. Patients often still have significant care needs and it is vital that all the arrangements are in place for when they are at home, whether that is notifying the GP or social services. Poorly organised care can leave patients very vulnerable.

'Our research found that 19% of patients were unhappy with the way their discharge from hospital was managed. There seems to be a stop-start approach as patients are moved from beds and left to wait several hours for medication. This, for some was a final indignity. For others, it showed a lack of respect for their care.'

In response to the NHS Alliance concerns about foundation trusts, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said:'All NHS trusts are expected to abide by best practice principles, regardless of their status. If there is evidence that this is not happening with foundation trusts, we would ask their independent regulator, Monitor, to look into it.'