130,000 Scottish patients ‘put at risk in wrong wards’

A lack of space in hospitals means patients are not always treated in the appropriate ward. Picture: Getty Images
A lack of space in hospitals means patients are not always treated in the appropriate ward. Picture: Getty Images
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More than 130,000 patients in Scotland have been treated in the wrong ward in the past two years, new figures have revealed.

Studies have suggested that the practice, known as “boarding”, puts patients at greater risk of dying. Caused by a lack of hospital beds, boarding also means that patients are more likely to be readmitted after being sent home, and are more likely to spend longer in hospital.

The figures came to light after a series of requests made by the Labour Party to health boards under Freedom of Information legislation. Two of the larger boards, Tayside and Grampian, were not able to provide the information.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s public services spokeswoman, said: “These figures point to huge levels of stress in our hospitals. This information suggests that too often there isn’t enough space for patients to be treated in the appropriate ward. That is hugely concerning.”

Research carried out by Dr Dan Beckett, a consultant in acute medicine at Forth Valley Royal Hospital, found that boarded-out patients had an increased length of stay, an increased risk of re-admission and an increased risk of mortality 30 days after discharge.

Dr Jean Turner, of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “The centralisation of hospitals has seen the number of beds cut. We are in a situation where people who come into accident and emergency are passed around wards until they can be discharged, and that is not good for patients.

“This figure highlights the importance of rehabilitating people to get them discharged. The longer patients are in hospital, the more likely they are to get infections. The Royal Colleges are trying to point out that when you move patients around, consultants have less control over what’s happening to them.

“Consultants end up having to walk around the hospital trying to find them.”

Last night a spokesman for health secretary Shona Robison said: “Scotland was the first among the UK nations to take a proactive approach to tackling the issue of boarding.

“We’ve investigated its causes and the effect it has on patients and are working closely with experts at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh to reduce the practice.”

The spokesman added: “We recognise that peaks in demand may require use of beds flexibly at times, however, we are working to ensure that NHS boards are managing their capacity and ensuring that patients are admitted to the right beds at the right time with the right staff.

“Key elements of our work to reduce boarding include freeing up capacity and easing pressure across the system.

“For example, our investment of £100 million over three years in reducing delayed discharge is already seeing real results with a 13 per cent reduction in bed days lost to patients ready to go home.”