How would you feel if you discovered that your elderly relative had been sent home from hospital in the middle of the night and left to make their own way home? According to the Times Newspaper this is happening to an alarming number of patients. According to some reports the figures could be as high as 8,000 a week.
Now some patients can cope with this. Following the birth of both of my sons I was quite happy to make my own way home. But it wasn’t easy getting a taxi at 4.00am and I would certainly be worried if my 85 year old mother was left to go home on the night bus.
The figures will include elderly and vulnerable patients who will have little or no support to get them home and to help them when they get there.
This is not only scandalous, it is also potentially negligent. If a hospital sends home a clearly vulnerable patient without appropriate support, and the patient suffers harm, then there is a potential claim for damages for negligence.
The NHS has acknowledged that this practice is unacceptable. Medical director Sir Bruce Keogh has told the Guardian –
"As health professionals we all agree that patients should be treated with compassion, so it is simply not acceptable to send people home from hospital late at night when they may have no family members nearby to support them,"
This illustrates an important issue. If the injured patient sues for damages then there is a risk that they will somehow be made to feel responsible. That they are draining money from the NHS. That they are part of a compensation culture. The reality is that this is a simple case of neglect which can be easily remedied – don’t do it.
It has often been the case that it is only when legal claims are pursued that failings come to light and standards improve. But we should not have to wait until the damage is done.
Whilst there may well be legal claims most people would prefer not to be placed in that position in the first place.