Significant numbers of people are not receiving follow-up support after being discharged from hospital, a report by Healthwatch and the Red Cross reveals.
The report reviews the experiences of 590 patients who were discharged from hospital following the government’s switch to a ‘ discharge to assess’ model in March 2020, and exposes where the current policy is creating gaps in care.
The charities revealed that 82% of survey respondents did not receive a follow-up visit and assessment at home, with one in five reporting an unmet care need.
One in five reported feeling unprepared to leave hospital, while 35% said they were not given a contact to seek further advice from after discharge, despite it being part of the guidance.
And 30% of people faced an issue with delayed COVID-19 test results, potentially putting family and carers at risk, or in a care home, other residents and staff.
The policy switch was implemented to help hospitals free up 15,000 beds and cope with demand at the peak of the pandemic by discharging patients from hospital faster and assessing their ongoing care needs at home.
A spokesman for Healthwatch said, although the speed at which people were discharged from hospital was important, it also led to worse care and a lack of support for some patients leaving the hospital.
The charities are calling on the NHS to address these issues as we enter the busy winter period amidst growing pressures of a second COVID-19 wave.
Healthwatch has made several recommendations based on the experiences of people and staff, including:
- Post-discharge check-ins and assessments: Services should follow policy and ensure people are offered follow-up support soon after discharge, whether by phone or in person.
- Discharge checklists: Patients should be asked about the support they need, including any transport home and equipment required.
- Communication: Patients and carers should be given a single point of contact for further support or questions, in line with national policy.
- Medication: Waiting for medication can often lead to delays being discharged from hospital. Linking patients to voluntary sector partners or community pharmacists who can deliver medicine could avoid delays.
- Boost community care capacity and recognise the value of the voluntary care sector in hospital discharge: The current discharge policy depends on follow-up assessments and care being available. Longer-term, more investment is needed to ensure this happens, including in the voluntary care sector.
Commenting on the findings, our Chair Sir Robert Francis QC said: ‘In March, hospitals were asked to discharge patients with little or no notice and the speed with which this took place was important but led to mistakes.
‘We do not want to detract from the heroic efforts of those on the frontline, who often put themselves at great risk to care for their patients, but services and system leaders have now had more time to prepare.
‘It’s essential that we learn from what people have shared with us about the impact that a poorly-handled discharge can have on them and their loved ones. Taking action now will not only reduce the risk to patients but will also help improve the way people leave hospital in the future.’
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