Patients discharged too early, says FG


Fine Gael has claimed hospital staff are being forced to release patients from hospital earlier than they should, after official figures for last year showed nearly 32,000 people who were discharged were readmitted less than a week later.

The claim, which is disputed by the Department of Health, came after Fine Gael was provided with figures which showed there were 31,737 readmissions of patients to acute hospitals in Ireland within a week of their original discharge.

The figures, provided to Limerick West TD Dan Neville, were in a written parliamentary reply by the Minister for Health Mary Harney.

The figures did not include day visits, but did include planned readmissions.

Yesterday, Mr Neville claimed the figures showed hospital consultants were "under unbearable pressure to discharge patients early to make room for other patients coming through accident and emergency".

"The premature discharge is compounding a very serious situation and it is inevitable that readmissions resulting from this take up more bed days than if the patients completed their full treatment in hospital in the first place.

"This is crisis management and patients in need of urgent operations, including patients with urgent need for cancer treatment, are repeatedly having their surgery cancelled.

"Patients are suffering in silence, their operations have had to be cancelled up to four times over several months because of the hospital bed crisis," Mr Neville said.

The Irish Patients' Association called for clarification on the exact nature of the figures, and for further detail on the data.

Its chairman, Stephen McMahon, said there were a number of valid reasons why a patient might be readmitted to hospital soon after discharge, such as if they were suffering from a chronic condition that required regular hospitalisation, or were undergoing a planned series of treatments.

However, the association would like more information about the figures.

He said the association had "no evidence at present that consultants are under pressure to release patients early".

The current 10-point plan by Ms Harney to address the ongoing overcrowding crisis at accident and emergency units did not include the early release of patients, Mr McMahon said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the number of readmissions were low in the context of the hospital system dealing with a million admissions a year.

He said there was no policy or practice in place of hospital consultants being asked to release patients early to free up space.

"There's no question on their decision on when it's suitable to discharge a patient," the spokesman said. "That's a clinical decision and there's no interference with that."