New figures released last week have shown that in 2013 a total of 195,372 patients were moved between NHS hospital wards out of hours, a practise that senior doctors and patient groups say could further put the health of vulnerable people at risk. These ward transfers took place between the hours of 11pm and 6am and have been labelled as ‘dehumanising’ to patients who have been compared to ‘parcels’ being ‘shunted around’ in the night. Of the total number, 20,003 patients were moved more than once, with some hospitals admitting that many were moved up to 3 or 4 times. The worst reported case was from Lancashire Teaching Hospitals where a patient was moved an incredible 24 times.
These nocturnal transfers are said to be due to the increasing demand for hospital beds. However, whilst there has been a 17% increase in out of hours ward transfer numbers since 2009 there has only been a 7% increase in hospital admissions. Dr Mark Temple from the Royal College of Physicians said that ‘moving in the middle of the night is particularly stressful for patients but there is also a safety aspect to consider as well’. He went on to say that many patients had a hard time adjusting to impromptu ward changes as it moved them away from nursing teams that they had previously built up a rapport with.
The story, which was broken in The Times a couple of days ago, caused the Chief Executive of the Patients Association to declare that it was “not very compassionate” of the NHS to treat patients in this way. The government has also promised that it will urge Trusts to minimise the moving of patients during night-time hours.
The Health Secretary’s recent comments about the NHS needing a ‘technical revolution’ raised a number of concerns about reliability amongst patients and health campaign groups. These concerns have been much heightened following the revelation that the West Yorkshire 111 service suffered 3 major disruptions in 2013 due to computer failures. Outages of the systems used by operators to log and process calls left many patients waiting for hours for crucial advice. Operators were forced to write patients details down on paper leading to a huge backlog and a number of ‘serious incidents’. One 98 year old lady waited for over 14 hours for a doctor after a family member rang the 111 number on her behalf.
A Service spokesman said: ‘the isolated problems with the computer system involved multiple providers of the NHS 111 service and involved more than one IT supplier. The issues meant that the computer system used to record information provided by callers and the outcomes of clinical assessments was not available.”
This was not the first time that the service came under scrutiny. In August last year the contractors running the service were issued with a warning from Huddersfield health chiefs to improve performance. Again, patients were experiencing huge delays after the service become overwhelmed due to pilot trials underestimating the number of calls that would be made.