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More NHS patients 'moved at night'

Nearly 200,000 patients a year are being “shuttled” between hospital wards during the night because of increasing demand on beds, new figures show.

Dr Mark Temple, Acute Care Fellow at the RCP, warned the “appalling” practice causes stress to the patient and puts their safety at risk.

A Freedom of Information request by The Times found 195,372 people at 58 trusts in England were moved between the hours of 11pm and 6am last year. However, 57 trusts admitted to not recording the data.

It represents a 17% increase since 2009, compared to a 7% overall rise in hospital admissions.

Last year 20,003 patients were moved more than once, with one patient at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals moved 24 times.

Dr Temple told the newspaper: “One of the things that distresses patients most is the feeling that they’re being passed around the hospitals like parcels.

“Moving at any time is stressful but if it’s happening in the middle of the night it’s particularly stressful.

“They’re surfacing on a new ward with a totally new nursing team that they haven’t formed any relationship with and that’s not acceptable.”

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said that it was “dehumanising” and “so far removed from the idea of putting the patient first”.

The government promised to urge trusts to minimise needlessly shunting patients around hospitals.

Dan Poulter, a health minister, said: “It can be distressing for patients and their families to move wards overnight and that’s why we will be asking trust boards to see what can be done to minimise transfers which are not for good clinical reasons or to improve patients care.”

Readers' comments (7)

  • It is generally the most vulnerable and elderly that get moved. On admission, those that don't quite fit in the criteria of being acutely acute, which are often patients with social problems too and don't quite fit in a box. At the other end of the spectrum are those who have got over the acute period and can be outlied (a dehumanising term I personally hate, along with some others), anywhere where there is a space, along with the bedblocker (grrr, annoying terminology). It doesn't seem that long ago that our trust had a policy not to move the elderly and confused after 8pm at night, that didn't last long. All this moving about came to pass with the emergence of admission wards and changes in GP practice. Once GP's would see patients and ring the appropriate ward and discuss the admission with the ward consultant/dr on call for that area. They could be admitted day or night depending on the onset of the problem, but there they stayed until discharge.

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  • An extremely dangerous practice. What is even more dangerous is moving patients at night who haven't had a Consultant review: you're almost guaranteeing a negative outcome.

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  • is this some sort of macabre version of the game 'musical chairs' without the music and substituting the chairs for beds and sleeping patients instead? what is the reason for this? it most certainly is not health 'care' or humane or medical treatment. Hello, this is the NHS!!!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous | 19-Mar-2014 7:00 am

    Putting it quite simply: too many patients and not enough beds to put them in. It is a symptom of the way in which emergency medicine is now delivered.

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  • Anonymous | 19-Mar-2014 2:38 pm

    you could always try stacking them as we did in our nuclear shelter!

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  • the only time we move patients like that is when we are putting them in isolation due to infection - i think safety is a major rationale for this

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  • moving patients because of infection is a very valid and obvious reason but presumably having to move them for these reasons at night is not common practice otherwise one might question why? are they new admissions? if not why was their infection not discovered a few hours earlier during the day time when they could have been moved with far less disruption? or if not could it be that wards are so busy and there is such a shortage of staff that work which should be carried out during the day is spilling over onto the night staff?

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