The health and wellbeing of older hospital patients is being put at risk when they are shipped from ward to ward, experts have said.
Unnecessary ward moves are becoming “increasingly common” and have adverse consequences for patients, according to an editorial in Age and Ageing - the scientific journal of the British Geriatrics Society.
The article, written by Professor Marion McMurdo and Dr Miles Witham from the University of Dundee, states that more and more consultants are moving patients from their own specialty ward to other areas of the hospital to accommodate new patients - a practice known as “boarding”.
But the experts say that the changes in environment can increase the risk of falls or delirium - problems that are associated with risk of serious injury and higher death rates.
And if older patients are shipped away from specialist elderly wards, they are less likely to receive established geriatric assessments - which can reduce future hospital admissions.
“Boarding is sometimes viewed as a necessary evil - at least compared to the alternative of having no bed in which to admit patients from the overflowing acute admissions unit,” said Prof McMurdo.
“Yet at a systems level, boarding appears to be a false economy - every ward move increases length of stay thus exacerbating the very problem that boarding attempts to circumvent.
“Worse still, frequent moves around a hospital are likely increase the risk of infection transmission.”
Dr Witham added: “We cannot escape the fact that hospitals face increasing pressure on bed availability as hospital bed numbers contract and emergency admissions rise.
“However, a recent survey of medical staff found that 92% of doctors would refuse to have a relative of theirs boarded out - this hardly inspires confidence in the quality of care received by patients who are moved around the hospital environment.
“The majority of patients being boarded are frail, elderly and cognitively impaired because most patients admitted acutely to hospital have these characteristics, and because such patients are likely to stay in hospital long enough to fall victim to boarding. “
Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK, said: “Older people are among the most frail in hospital and often have the most complex needs. So it’s very disturbing to hear that they are regularly being moved from ward to ward to make space for new patients - putting their care and recuperation at risk.
“This practice only makes it more likely that older patients will spend longer in hospital and be rapidly readmitted because they have not received the proper care and attention they need.
“It’s in the interest of both hospitals and patients that older people are not shifted around to solve bed shortages but get carefully planned care.”
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