All medical practitioners, from GPs through to hospital consultants, have a duty of care to their patients. In the hospital setting, doctors have a duty of care to provide hospital treatment for as long as is required.
Negligence arises when a patient who has been discharged from hospital suffers a deterioration that would otherwise have been avoided by a lengthier stay in hospital. In such cases, the patient may be able to seek a claim for compensation.
However, medical negligence as a result of premature hospital discharge is a complicated area of law with many grey areas.
Here is a basic guide to answer some of the commonly asked questions for anyone who feels they may have been discharged inappropriately from hospital and what they can do about it.
Patient Discharge – the facts
With the current crisis in the NHS meaning many hospitals are at breaking capacity, the pressure to discharge patients to free up beds has never been greater. Sometimes doctors at the hospital make a decision to discharge a patient because they feel the familiarity of home will be beneficial.
According to a National Audit Office Report in 2012-13, there were more than one million emergency re-admissions within 30 days of discharge. In addition, adverse drug events occur in up to 20% of patients after discharge.
Discharging a patient from hospital requires a great number of checks and balances, from suitable home support through to education about changes to or the introduction of new medications. For people with complex chronic health conditions, a discharge from hospital can be a complicated process.
What is medical negligence?
Not every mistake made by a medical practitioner is deemed serious enough to constitute medical negligence worthy of a lawsuit. Medical negligence is any action or inaction that causes medical care to fall below an acceptable standard and causes harm to the patient. In legal terms, ‘the acceptable standard of care’ denotes the same level of care that would have been provided by a similar practitioner within the same circumstances. There are a lot of grey areas as you can imagine.
What you can expect from the NHS in terms of hospital discharge
Every hospital will have its own discharge policy, but generally you should not be discharged from hospital until:
- You are medically fit (as decided by a consultant or a consultant’s representative)
- You’ve been assessed for the level of help you need to be safe at home
- You’ve been given a written care plan showing the help you will get when you get home
- The support you have been offered is in place for when you get home
What you can do if you feel you’ve been inappropriately discharged from hospital
It can be difficult to know who is responsible for your care in hospital and who to go to if you have concerns. Every healthcare professional looking after you in and outside of the hospital has a duty to provide a good quality of care. All healthcare professionals are registered with a governing body, so complaints may be directed there.
In the NHS, hospital services are managed by NHS Trusts, but the Chief Executive of the hospital is the person with overall responsibility for the hospital’s services. If your care in hospital has been arranged through your GP, you could also contact them. If you don’t want to make a complaint directly to the hospital, there are clinical commissioning groups you can direct your complaint to.
You can use the NHS complaints procedure, but if you feel you have suffered negligent discharge from hospital, you may want to consult a legal specialist.
It is best to raise your concerns as early as possible, so if you are being discharged and you aren’t happy with that decision, tell your consultant immediately. You can also contact the NHS Patient advice and liaison services (PALS). If you would rather speak to someone independent of the NHS, you can speak with an advisor at the Independent Health Advocacy Service. If you are thinking of making a complaint, it is a good idea to request a copy of your medical records.
How can you prove medical negligence as a result of inappropriate discharge from hospital?
Just because you have been re-admitted to hospital, it doesn’t necessarily mean you were caused any harm. Proving you were discharged too early can be incredibly hard to establish. Determining negligence requires highly detailed medical notes covering medical history, symptoms and treatments. Even harder to prove is the fact that discharge from hospital actually caused harm.
Seeking legal advice is highly advisable, and a specialist solicitor will be able to advise you whether or not you have a good case.
George Ide LLP provide a nationwide service in medical negligence claims, through offices in London, Chichester and Guildford.
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to George Ide LLP directly.
Published on 11th April 2017
(Last updated 21st March 2018)