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Patients discharged early to meet bed day target

By Lilian Anekwe

Hospitals are rushing to discharge patients earlier than ever as pressure mounts to meet the upcoming target for reducing emergency bed occupancy.

Figures obtained by Pulse show SHAs are reporting sharp falls in emergency bed days even as their rates of emergency admissions continue to rise.

The findings – revealed under the Freedom of Information Act – have provoked fears that patients are being hurried out of hospital before they are ready, leaving GPs to pick up the pieces.

In East of England SHA, emergency bed days fell by 6% in the three years to 2005/6, even as emergency admissions leaped by 17% (see graph).

There were similar trends up to 2006/7 in the South East Coast and South Central SHAs.

And in figures collated by London Health Authority for the whole of England, total admissions to hospitals rose by 10% between 2003/4 and 2005/6 as the total number of bed days fell by 4%.

The reduction in emergency bed days – as the 2008 deadline approaches for achieving a 5% cut – came as the NHS congratulated itself for saving £152m by reducing the average length of hospital stay.

Figures published by the NHS Institute show the NHS has saved £363m over the past 12 months by ‘working smarter to improve productivity'. This includes £152m saved by reducing the amount of time spent by patients in hospital by 25%.

But a GP in Eastbourne, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Pulse: ‘There's more rapid turnover of patients in hospital – sometimes you find they're discharged prematurely and we end up entering them back into hospital again. We've been feeling this pressure for some time.'

Dr Fay Wilson, secretary of Londonwide LMCs, said Government targets had put patients at risk. ‘There's been a trend of earlier and earlier discharge. Patients may not have the home nursing services they need. It rebounds on the patient and GP.'

A spokesperson for South Central SHA said improvements in secondary care meant patients ‘continue to receive the most appropriate care in the right place and at the right time', but in some cases this meant GP care.

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