More than 500,000 hospital patients are sent home from their sick beds each year before they’re ready to leave hospital, according to figures released today.
About 1500 patients are readmitted to A&E department each day having been sent home too soon. Now, to be fair, I’m not putting all the blame on the doctors. If you’re a medic and you have some humourless automaton with a clipboard breathing down your neck every hour of the day, you will make mistakes, panic and mess up. Seeing patients in pain on long waiting lists must contribute to doctors’ understandable wishes to push more people through the healthcare sausage machine.
And before some smart arse asks me how I know this to be true, allow me to recount my own experience. Last year I was fitted to with an external fixator to my left femur in order to help my fracture to heal. After four months the doctors decided to take it off and insisted that it could be done with day surgery. The operation was carried out under general anaesthetic but I had to stay in overnight because the blood loss was too great for me to go home. However, I was packed off the next day even though I didn’t feel too great. Three days later my leg had bent like a banana and the fracture clearly hadn’t even started to heal despite my leg having been x-rayed and manipulated. I was then readmitted as an emergency and spent ten long weeks in traction.
So, I think I can claim that I’m one of last year’s 500,000 who suffered the fate of being pushed out of their hospital bed too soon. Come to think of it, my leg broke in the first place because I was sent home too soon after my attack of osteomyelitis. I really needed a month or two more of complete bed rest and monitoring to be certain my leg was more stable. As a result of that blunder, I have one leg that’s now 4cm shorter than the other.
The figures for emergency readmissions have been rising for the past ten years, and this is the direct collateral damage from reducing waiting lists. Also, during this time, 20,000 beds have been taken out of the healthcare system, about 10% of the total beds available.
For those of us who’ve witnessed the NHS close up, it’s clear that the bed capacity is too low. During my stays in hospital I never saw a bed that was empty for more than an hour or two. Nurses were run ragged cleaning and changing beds as more and more patients turned up on the NHS conveyor belt of care. Surely, there must be a better way than this ‘just in time’ system of medical care.