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Government supports call to make summaries available at discharge

The Department of Health has given its backing to the NHS Future Forum's call for hospitals to ensure discharge summaries were made available to the GP and patient at the point of discharge.

In a report released today, the NHS Future Forum urged the Government to give ‘a clear presumption in favour of hospital discharge summaries being made available to the GP and patient at the point of discharge' and that GP referral letters should be made available to patients at the point of referral.

In a response, also published today, the Department of Health said it would introduce the change by 2013.

The DH response said: ‘We support this view and agree that the NHS number is an important tool in improving the way that information is used and accessed across health and social care. We intend for this aspiration to become a reality by 2013.'

Speaking to Pulse, Professor Steve Field, chair of the NHS Future Forum and a GP in Birmingham, said linking elements of hospital payment to discharge summaries in commissioning contracts could help crackdown on the ‘intensely frustrating' delays in GPs and patients receiving the summaries.

Professor Field said the Future Forum's job was to ‘flag up the issue' with Government and it was ‘entirely' up to ministers how they acted on the forum's advice. However, Professor Field said in his personal view linking payments to discharge summaries could be one solution.

‘As a practising GP I find it incredibly frustrating, as do my patients, when letters from consultants and discharge summaries from hospitals and mental health services can take weeks to appear,' Professor Field said.

‘We recommend that doctors and patients should have access to the discharge summaries straight away. You can do that by making it a criteria for payment through commissioning, is one idea. If the discharge summaries aren't ready then why should a hospital be paid? Some hospitals, including my local hospital, already do this well but it's clear that others don't.'

Professor Field said an alternative solution could be to write the responsibility of providing discharge summaries on time into the NHS Constitution, but felt it would be less effective than establishing a link with payment.