By Lucy Ashton
The Scottish Conservatives have expressed “deep concern” at figures showing that almost 40,000 NHS patients were discharged at night last year.
The stats, collated from Freedom of Information responses to the party, show that 38,535 patients were discharged at unsociable hours in 2022 – 16,488 of them between the hours of midnight and 5am when public transport is often non-existent.
And the true figure is almost certainly higher, as two of Scotland’s health boards – NHS Lothian and NHS Forth Valley – did not respond to requests for information.
Shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane says that middle-of-the-night discharges could compromise the safety of elderly and vulnerable patients, as well as costing health boards a small fortune in taxi bills.
Scottish Conservative shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP said: “The sheer volume of patients being discharged in the middle of the night is a cause for deep concern.
Transport is scarce or even non existent for patients discharged from hospital during the night.
“We know that the SNP’s failure to tackle delayed discharge is an enormous problem in Scotland’s NHS but, equally, we don’t want elderly or vulnerable patients being sent home in the middle of the night.
“Ideally, hospitals should be striving to discharge patients during the daytime.
“On top of the problem of frail, older people getting inside their homes in the cold and dark – and the potential that brings for slips and falls – you have the issue that care packages or outside assistance won’t be on hand until the following day.
“There’s also a big cost implication for the NHS. If patients are discharged in the middle of the night and there is no public transport available – or a relative to pick them up – the health board will often pick up the tab for a patient’s taxi fare home.
“Given NHS resources are so scarce, this is an outlay that could be reduced or eliminated if hospitals were better resourced – and therefore better organised – in terms of timing the discharge of patients.
“This problem is just another manifestation of the SNP’s poor running of Scotland’s NHS, and one that the new health secretary must address.”
Last year, almost 40,000 patients were discharged from hospital after 10PM. In 2022, 38,535 patients were discharged from NHS hospitals between 10pm and 5am. (Scottish Conservative Research, 8 February 2023, Available on Request).
Over 16,000 patients were discharged between midnight and 5am. 16,488 patients were discharged between midnight and 4.59AM. A further 4,993 patients were also discharged between 3AM and 4.59AM (Scottish Conservative Research, 8 February 2023, Available on Request).
Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the most late-night discharges, with almost 10,000 patients being discharged between 10pm and 5am. 9,889 patients were discharged between these hours, representing 26% of all cases. (Scottish Conservative Research, 8 February 2023, Available on Request).
Poor public transport in Glasgow means many patients could’ve been left stranded after being discharged. At the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, the first bus doesn’t arrive at the hospital until 5.51am, with the last bus arriving at 10.48pm. (Bus Times, link; link; link; link).
Some patients will be forced to get taxis after being discharged, costing the NHS money. Some patients are entitled to claim back the cost of travelling to and from the hospital, meaning late night discharges may end up costing the NHS money. (Citizens Advice Scotland, Accessed 14 April 2023, link).
Two health boards failed to provide any data. NHS Forth Valley and NHS Lothian didn’t respond to our FOI request. (Scottish Conservative Research, 8 February 2023, Available on Request).
Top picture: Shadow health secretary Dr Sandesh Gulhane.