Alarm bells as more elderly sent home in early hours

CONCERNS have been raised for the welfare of elderly hospital patients after it emerged that hundreds are being discharged by NHS Lothian in the middle of the night.

More than 550 pensioners aged 70 or over were among 2616 patients discharged between the hours of 11pm and 6am between April 2009 and March this year, data released under the Freedom of Information Act shows.

The number of night-time discharges among all age groups reached a three-year high in the latest financial year, when 939 people, including 57 patients aged between 80 and 89 and 15 who were older than 89, left hospitals.

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There were 812 discharges between 11pm and 6am in 2010/11 and 865 in 2009/10, when the highest number of patients aged 70 or over – 201 – left hospitals at night.

The revelations come after Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, pledged to investigate the practice of discharging patients at night among health trusts in England after it emerged that thousands had been sent home in darkness.

NHS Lothian said discharges had only been made when it was clinically appropriate.

However, Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients Association, said she was concerned pensioners were being turfed out into the night due to pressure over beds.

She said: “Putting people out in the middle of the night is totally unnecessary. It’s not just happening in the Lothians – it’s happening all over Scotland. It’s not acceptable.”

In addition to the 176 patients aged 70 or above who left hospitals between 11pm and 6am in the last financial year, 143 were discharged during the night who were aged from 60 to 69.

Age Scotland also expressed concern over the figures. A spokeswoman said: “Discharging between 11pm and 6am is an inappropriate time period, as patients may be disrupted from sleep in order to be discharged. It can also be difficult to secure transport to get home safely, and friends and family are not easily available for support.”

The figures relate to discharges from Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the Western General Hospital, and St John’s Hospital in Livingston.

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NHS Lothian urged caution over its own figures, saying some patients were discharged to attend other facilities rather than being sent home. They also said staff members may not have used the TRAKcare system as they should have done when entering details of discharges, meaning the time they made the entry, rather than the time the patient went home, was recorded.

The board’s medical director, Dr David Farquharson, said: “The figures provided in this FoI request have been taken from our computer records and represent the time of day the discharge was recorded by staff, not necessarily the time that the patient was actually transferred to another hospital or discharged home.

“We believe that these figures present an unrealistic picture of patient discharges and it is likely that the majority of these patients were discharged earlier in the day.

“According to our database 1.2 per cent of all discharges are recorded between 11pm and 6am, and the vast majority of these involve patients between 20 and 59 years. We believe that the true number of genuine discharges during these time periods is very small and only due to exceptional circumstances.”

Patient sat in bus shelter till morning

Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients Association, said that elderly patients were being discharged at night throughout Scotland.

She said that a woman in her 80s from the Grampian area who suffered from Huntington’s disease had been thrown out of a hospital with no money and no way of getting home in autumn 2010.

According to Ms Watt, the woman was forced to sit in a bus shelter from midnight until the first bus turned up in the morning.

“She didn’t have any money for a taxi but they didn’t listen,” she said.

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The issue of night discharges was highlighted in England after figures were published under the Freedom of Information Act which suggested thousands were being sent home to free up beds.

The family of Elsie Allanson, 74, told how she was sent home from St James’s Hospital in Leeds at 2am, wearing just her dressing gown and slippers.

It was claimed that a taxi driver had to carry her to her door as she was so frail.

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