Vulnerable patients and their families suffering harrowing ordeals due to poor hospital discharge

May 11, 2016

Patients are being sent home alone, afraid and unable to cope and in some cases without their relatives or carers being told, resulting in devastating consequences, according to a report by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman published today.

The report highlights cases investigated by the Ombudsman service where people have been discharged from hospital before they are fit to leave or without making sure they can cope on their return home.

Last year the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman saw a 36% increase in discharge related investigations. These found that people’s deaths or suffering could have been prevented if hospitals carried out the right checks before discharging people.

The report reveals how one woman in her 80s was discharged from hospital to an empty house, in a confused state with a catheter still in place. It also tells the tragic experience a grandmother in her late 90s, who collapsed and died at home in her granddaughter’s arms after being discharged from hospital too soon.

Another hospital sent an 85-year-old woman with dementia home alone at 11pm, without informing her family, despite the fact she was unable to look after herself. Her daughter visited her the next morning to find that her mother had been left with no food, drink and bedding, unable to care for herself or get to the toilet.

Another investigation found that a father’s death from sepsis could have been avoided if he had been treated for the condition before he was discharged from hospital.

The friends and family who complained about their loved ones’ treatment told the Ombudsman service of the impact of their experiences. One woman said she would be “haunted for the rest of her life” by her mother’s avoidable suffering just before she died. Her mother, who was 80, had Parkinson’s disease and dementia. She was re-admitted to hospital several times after being repeatedly sent home where she was unable to cope. She later died in hospital. Her daughter said she now has nightmares and can’t sleep because of what happened to her mother.

Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Julie Mellor said:

‘Our investigations have found that some of the most vulnerable patients, including frail and older people, are enduring harrowing ordeals when they leave hospital.

‘Poor planning, coordination 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.’

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