This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

Read the latest issue online

Gold, incentives and meh

Getting hospital work by the back door


copperfield duo 1500x1000px

Just when you thought things in general, and discharge letters in particular, couldn’t get any worse, they have. That’s if two discharge summaries I received this morning are anything to go by. And they are, because nowadays I seem to suffer discharge dysfunction every time I open my inbox.

So, example one: a 70-year-old lady I admitted last week with breathlessness. Turns out she had an iron deficiency anaemia with an Hb of 8.8. She’s transfused two units and sent home. GI investigations. Nope? Follow up? Nada.

And example two: a 74 year old man I sent in with urosepsis. While on the ward he was diagnosed with AF. Discharged on a beta blocker, no mention at all of anticoagulation, despite a CHA2DS2VASc score of four (my calculation, obviously).

The likeliest explanation is that the medical teams simply omitted the relevant information on the discharge letters. But if I assume this, I will be wrong, and the patient will die of colon cancer or a stroke, respectively.

Hospital discharge summaries have assumed Andrex levels of usefulness

If, on the other hand, I decide that this is an omission of care rather than communication, and make the necessary follow-up arrangements myself, I will also be wrong, and the resulting duplication of appointments will so addle the hospital admin department that all follow up arrangements will end up cancelled and the patient will die of colon cancer or a stroke, respectively.

There are probably many good reasons why hospital discharge summaries have assumed Andrex levels of usefulness: workload, the constraints of computer and protocols, a lack of admin staff, the delegation of clinical tasks to non-clinical staff etc.

Or it could simply be that secondary care has decided to respond to primary care’s BMA-fuelled bouncebacks of dumped work by just pretending that such work no longer exists.

Whatever. The end game is that I have yet another role: a safety net for hospital error and omission. Ironic, really. The Government has ensured that every hospital has a front door doctor screening and redirecting what’s going in. Maybe they’d be better off monitoring what’s coming out.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex 

Rate this article  (4.84 average user rating)

Click to rate

  • 1 star out of 5
  • 2 stars out of 5
  • 3 stars out of 5
  • 4 stars out of 5
  • 5 stars out of 5

0 out of 5 stars

Readers' comments (13)

  • Hi Tony
    Could you contact me at: doron16854@gmail .com - it concerns the IGT training tool website which is insecure
    Unfortunately my Mac will not open this site with Safari or with Goole Chrome as it considers it unsafe.
    I have also tried to access the site with Internet Explorer at the Health Centre but the message is that the RC4 cipher is not cryptographically secure!!
    Isn't it ironic that the IGT tool training site is unsafe. - maybe the subject of an interesting article on cyber-security and the NHS.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Spot on Tony! The problem is in the process of rescuing the patient sorting hospital omissions etc, you can get sued for your "delay" in calling them or reading the letter and get shot like Dr Barwa Gaba.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The number of times I refer on a patient with 'please find enclosed a letter from X_______ in which s/he asks me to refer Mr/s Jones/Williams to you' leaving unsaid the comment 'because they are too bloody lazy to do it themselves', and then a return letter asking for more clinical details which I haven't got because I didn't want to refer them in the first bloody place! I realise that it is probably to do with. Referring budgets, but how much easier would it be if they did it themselves and cc me in the referral?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

View results 10 results per page20 results per page

Have your say