Increasing number of patients moved around hospitals at night

Posted by Samantha Ward on


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This is the finding of a Freedom of Information request by the The Times which found that 195,372 patients across 58 Trusts in England were transferred between clinical areas between the hours of 11 pm and 6 am in 2013. This is a 17% increase since 2009.

Dr Mark Temple, acute care fellow at the Royal College of Physicians described the practice as 'appalling' and warned of safety concerns and increased stress to patients.   As a nurse with many years experience in the acute hospital setting I am very familiar with this practice, which can be very distressing for all concerned.  Hospital Trusts are under great pressure to accommodate acute admissions at all times of the day and night, usually within a four-hour time frame (to avoid missing targets), and generally in a setting in which the bed status is almost full to capacity.

A typical scenario might be an elderly patient, having been admitted with poor mobility who is perhaps generally unwell and in need of basic nursing care and rehabilitation who has no specific condition or disease that might easily be 'slotted into' a particular specialist ward.  This is the type of patient who is likely to be moved to a different, perhaps less acute area in order to accommodate an acutely ill cardiac or respiratory patient for example. 

Clearly, it is right and appropriate that patients should be cared for in an area which specialises in their particular condition.  However it is often the more vulnerable patients who are moved to accommodate them, often more than once, and this can often have a negative effect, particularly if the patient is confused, as this is likely to be exacerbated; particularly at night having gone to sleep in one area and waking up in another! 

Whilst this is far from an ideal situation, it is important to remember that patients are generally moved so that another, acutely-ill patient can be admitted; with continuous pressure on beds and staff within the NHS and the inevitable rise in hospital admissions, it is difficult to see how this problem can be solved; there are only a finite number of acute beds available and patients clearly have to be admitted somewhere.  It is however encouraging to see that this issue has been highlighted and hopefully some degree of solution can be found.

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About the Author

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Sam is a Registered Nurse with 17 years' experience working in the NHS. She uses her medical and nursing knowledge and experience to liaise with clients.

Samantha Ward
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