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Hospital fined for failing to send discharge summaries on time

A CCG has withdrawn £60,000 of funding from its local trust because of its poor record in sending discharge summaries to GP practices.

North East Essex CCG imposed the penalty when Colchester General Hospital failed to hit its target of sending 98% of discharge summaries to a GP practice within 24 hours of a discharge, managing only 80.4% in September, 83% in June and 92.5% in April.

This follows the hospital being placed under ‘special measures’ earlier this month by NHS watchdog Monitor, after the CQC said staff were ‘bullied’ into altering cancer statistics to hit national performance targets.

Dr Brian Balmer, chief executive of North and South Essex LMC, backed the move.

He said: ‘The CCG is quite right to withdraw the funding. As a GP that is what would happen to me if I stopped providing certain services. Now that there is more GP influence on commissioning the providers are being told that integration with hospitals must happen and the services must improve.’

Dr Balmer warned that there can be dangers for patients if GPs do not receive discharge summaries, because these documents can describe important changes in medication that need to be implemented.

He added: ‘Delays can damage the relationship between a patient and a GP. The patient is told by the hospital that the summary has been sent and then goes to the GP to find out it hasn’t been received. They can think that the GP is an idiot for not knowing anything about it. Delays can also mean that the GP has to chase round to find out what’s happened to the discharge summaries.’

A North East Essex CCG spokesperson said: ‘We understand some of the reasons why the hospital has failed to meet the need for timely summaries to go out to GPs.  Nonetheless we are obliged to enforce the penalty as a matter of patient safety.’

Colchester Hospital said it had an ‘action plan’ in place to improve its record on discharge summaries. Part of the problem is that an electronic system for sending summaries has not been fully operational, the spokesperson said.