Big drop in complaints of ‘too early discharge’

Wigan Infirmary

Wigan Infirmary

The number of complaints lodged by patients and their families about allegedly being prematurely discharged from the borough’s hospitals has more than halved in the last four years.

The Wigan Evening Post recently ran an article which identified a national problem of many patients’ being sent home from hospital “alone, afraid and unable to cope.”

People were being “badly let down by the system”, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) said after its new report highlighted the “harrowing” impact of poorly managed hospital discharges on patients and their families.

The authors say that being discharged from hospital to the comfort of one’s own home should come as a relief, but in many cases this “couldn’t be further from the truth”.

But Wigan health chiefs said the national picture did not reflect in any way the situation locally.

A WWL spokesman said: “WWL only discharge patients from hospital once they have been assessed as medically fit by a doctor. We also ensure that any additional care needs or support are in place to allow them to go home or to be transferred to another intermediate care setting such as a care or nursing home.

“On admission to any of our wards, patients receive an estimated date of discharge. This date is discussed with both the patient and their family; thus allows for the planning for discharge on admission.”

It was not able to provide figures to back this up at the time so the Wigan Evening Post submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act, asking how many complaints had been made against WWL since 2012 of premature discharging of patients, how many of the complaints had been upheld and if any compensation had been paid, how much.

The details have now been provided and they show that between 2012 and 2015 there were a total of 38 complaints. There were 14 in the first of those years and there has been a steady decline since to just six last year.

The trust said that it upholds all complaints “on the basis that a complainant has felt the need to complain.”

No money was paid to any of these complainants.

As far as the national picture is concerned, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor, said: “Poor planning, co-ordination and communication between hospital staff and between health and social care services are failing patients, compromising their safety and dignity.

“Health and social care leaders must work harder to uncover why ten years of guidance to prevent unsafe discharge is not being followed, causing misery and distress for patients, families and carers.”

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Most people would assume that in a civilised society no older person would ever be pressured to leave hospital without adequate support being in place, yet recent calls to Age UK’s advice line also show that in our hospitals today, good basic discharge practice is by no means guaranteed.

“As such this report and the dreadful cases it describes mark a new low in what looks like a continuous downward trend in the capacity of our health and care system to look after our older people adequately – indeed, on occasion even in its ability to keep the most vulnerable safe.”