Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fears over hospital readmissions

Hospital readmissions are on the rise, prompting claims ministers are pressuring the NHS to release patients early to help cut waiting times.

Government figures, obtained by the Conservatives, showed that the number of emergency readmissions had risen by nearly a third since 2002.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said hospitals were discharging people too early
because of NHS targets.

The government said readmissions were often unrelated to the earlier visit.

In the last quarter of 2002-3, 5.5% of patients were readmitted as emergency cases less than a month after being released.

By the last quarter of 2005-6, this had risen to 7.1%.

It comes as hospitals grapple with achieving the latest waiting time target - 18 weeks from GP referral to hospital treatment by 2008.

Patients are currently seen within six months, but that is from the point of diagnosis, which is
often months after referral.

Mr Lansley said: "On the face of it hospitals may be discharging patients sooner than they should be.

"High bed occupancy rates and the government's push to achieve waiting time targets may be responsible for compromising patients' safety in this way."

And Liberal Democrat health spokesman Steve Webb said: "The financial crisis in the NHS means that doctors and managers are being put under huge pressure to cut the length of time that people stay in hospital.

"These figures show what can happen when financial pressures get in the way of clinical priorities.

"It is a false economy to send people home too soon only to have them readmitted at a later stage."