THOUSANDS of people have been discharged from hospital in the middle of the night, an investigation has revealed.

An ever-increasing number of patients were discharged from Dorset County Hospital during the hours of 11pm and 6am in the last five years.

An investigation found that a total of 3,025 people were discharged at night with the numbers increasing each year.

Official figures reveaAled that overnight discharges increased by 492 patients from 391 in 2008/9 to 883 in 2012/13.

Hospital bosses claim that although they do not ‘plan’ to discharge people at night the figures reflect the increasing number of patients treated.

The Maternity Unit and the Kingfisher Ward for children proved to have the highest overnight discharge figures in the last five years with 1,585 and 683, respectively – while the Intensive Care/High Dependency Unit discharged a total of 132 people during these hours in the time period.

Mum Magenta Barnes-Wood has spoken out about her experience at Dorset County Hospital.

She said staff discharged her at around 2am, without a phone, money or house keys.

The 44-year-old from Dorchester said: “It was really horrible. I was asked to the leave the hospital at around 2am and I had no way of getting home.

“It was quite late on a Sunday evening and I had a chest infection which had got worse and then I had an asthma attack.

“I called NHS Direct who told me to go to the hospital and see the out-of-hours doctor.

“I called my friend from Weymouth to take me there and I just got in the car with my pyjamas on – thinking I wouldn’t be there that long.”

The single mum-of-two, who works full- time with young people, added: “I was then admitted overnight into the emergency care unit. My friend left me to go and see to my children but after a few tests the doctor told me I could go.

“They must have needed the bed because I had no phone, keys or money and I was in my pyjamas.

“They told me I could wait in the waiting room but I was basically kicked out.

“I couldn’t get hold of my friend from the hospital phone but I did eventually and she came to pick me up.

“It was awful. My friend has her own life and I was angry that I was treated in that way when I was so ill.”

She added: “What if it had been an elderly man or woman?”

Ms Barnes-Wood, who was diagnosed with a pneumonic chest infection, was forced to take two weeks off work.

The following day she was referred again to the out-of-hours doctor.

A spokesman for Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “When patients attend the Emergency Department late at night for treatment and do not require admission to a hospital ward, we make every effort to make sure they can get home safely.

“We judge each individual case and a vulnerable elderly patient is likely to be kept in hospital overnight.”

Figures reflect increased caseload

A spokeswoman for Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said: “The increase in the figures for overnight discharges reflects the steady increase in the number of patients we have treated over the last five years.

“We would never plan to discharge a patient after 11pm.

“A significant number of patients choose to self-discharge at night.

“The figures for Kingfisher Ward and the Maternity Unit largely relate to patients who have attended in the night for monitoring or treatment in the same way that people can attend the Emergency Department 24 hours a day.”

The spokesman added: “We now have a dedicated emergency assessment unit on Kingfisher and specialist support is available in maternity at any time.

“Mothers with newborns would not routinely be discharged after 11pm following birth.

“Similarly, children admitted to Kingfisher Ward would not be discharged at night.”

‘Underfunding is behind problem’

Patient governor Derek Julian says that it is ‘not fair’ that increasing numbers of people are being discharged from hospital in the middle of the night.

He praised Dorset County Hospital for ‘doing their best’ but told the Echo it came down to increasing patient demand, lack of bed space and lack of funds.

He said: “This is certainly not fair on patients – what it all boils down to is quite frankly underfunding.

“Staff are trying to clear spaces to meet the increasing demand of patients and it is not fair on patients unless they have asked to be discharged.

“The other side of the story will be that staff need to clear space for patients.

“The expansion of the area such as the Poundbury development means that demand has increased on DCH.

“It is a good hospital and they are doing their best but the demand is too high.”

He added: “Controlled immigration is good for the country but uncontrolled immigration puts pressure on the NHS, schools and hospitals. No one will admit the truth about this.”

‘Unacceptable ’practice grows

All of the country’s 170 NHS hospital trusts in England were asked for details of patients discharged from wards between 11pm and 6am in 2011.

A total of 100 trusts responded under the Freedom of Information Act, which disclosed that nearly 240,000 people were sent home during these hours in that year.

This accounted for 3.5 per cent of all hospital discharges, a figure that had not changed in five years.

Using estimates for the entire country, it suggested that more than 400,000 such discharges are made by the NHS every year – the equivalent to almost 8,000 every week.

At the time, hospital managers suggested the practice was occurring as a way of creating bed space.

NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh, pictured, urged Strategic Health Authorities to ‘urgently’ review their practices after it emerged hundreds of thousands of patients were sent home between 11pm and 6am nationwide in 2011.

He wrote: “While some patients may of course choose to be discharged during these hours, the examples highlighted of elderly patients being left to make their way home by themselves in the middle of the night are obviously unacceptable, and need to be addressed urgently.”

When told about the official figures for Dorset County Hospital, a spokesman for the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said its view was in the same line as Mr Keogh.

  • A spokesman for Healthwatch said: “Every aspect of the care hospitals provide should be patient-centred, and that includes the arrangements to discharge someone from hospital. “Most of all, patients should only be discharged at a time that is both convenient and safe for them and their families, as well as being clinically appropriate. “A proportion of patients will always leave hospital at night for a variety of good reasons. For instance, women who give birth to healthy babies often have no need to remain in hospital and may choose to return home soon after the delivery rather than staying in hospital all night.

“At the same time it would be unacceptable for hospitals to discharge vulnerable or elderly patients at night without the assurance that they have the necessary support from family of friends. The spokesman added: “If anyone has concern, and evidence, about inappropriate discharge at night from hospitals in Dorset we would like to hear from them, either through our helpline on 0300 111 0102 or through the Speak Out form on our web site healthwatchdorset”

  • The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, excluded patients seen on the Admissions Unit Assessment Bay, the Emergency Medical Unit and the Observation Ward at Dorset County Hospital. The also exclude dialysis patients, deaths and transfers to other hospitals.