NHS England has encouraged trusts to consider taking legal action against patients who refuse to leave hospital beds when step-down care is made available.
NHSE guidance sent to trusts late last year, seen by HSJ, advised clinicians that where people “with mental capacity” refuse to vacate a bed because they do not accept NHS-funded short-term care offers, the “local discharge choice policy” should be followed, which could involve legal action.
The guidance said the process “may include seeking an order for possession of the hospital bed” under civil law, and that “appropriate formal notification of the process must be given to the person and their representatives/carers”.
These legal powers were open to trusts prior to covid, but the memo from NHSE comes amid increasing pressure on trusts to improve discharge rates, as waits for emergency and elective care continue to soar.
Helen Hughes, chief executive of Patient Safety Learning, said: “Given the current pressures posed by covid, it is understandable that the NHS is seeking to ensure that the hospital discharge process is as swift and effective as possible.
“However, hospital discharges are complex processes and can potentially result in avoidable harm if patients are discharged before they are clinically ready. It only takes one element of this complex process failing to put a patient’s safety at risk.
“We would be particularly concerned if patients and their carers were put under pressure to accept potentially unsafe discharge options due to the threat of possible legal action by an NHS trust.”
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Source: HSJ, 14 January 2022