Age Concern slams DH for failure to loosen delayed discharge rules

Age Concern has criticised the Department of Health for failing to answer calls to amend hospital discharge rules following concerns that older people were being discharged unsafely.

The criticism came in a damning review of the government’s response to an August 2007 report on the human rights of older people in health and social care by parliament’s joint committee on human rights.

The committee had called for the government to amend the Delayed Discharge Regulations 2003 to give hospitals and adult care departments flexibility over the timescales for discharges. The regulations require councils to sort out placements for people within two days of being notified by a hospital of their imminent discharge.

However, the committee found that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to respect for private and family life – was being contravened, particularly when people were discharged to care homes. This included having no choice on discharge, being discharged miles away from family and friends and being sent directly to the care home without receiving rehabilitation, contrary to DH guidance.

Rejected DH claim

Age Concern rejected the DH’s claim that there was already flexibility in the regulations. Its report pointed out that from 1998-2006, there had been a 31% in emergency readmissions to hospitals, with one in 10 patients aged over 75 affected in 2006.

In addition, the report found that NHS payment by results tariffs had increased pressure on hospitals to discharge people prematurely because they were now paid according to the average cost of a treatment, making longer-than-average stays unprofitable.

It said the DH should ensure that payment systems in the NHS “incentivise safe, supported discharge and the opportunity for rehabilitation for all who can benefit”.

Complaints by self-funders

The Age Concern report also called on the government to use the forthcoming National Health Service Reform Bill – due in the 2008-9 parliamentary session – to fulfil its promise to empower the local government ombudsman to handle complaints by self-funding care users. The government has pledged to end the situation where self-funders have no recourse to an independent person for unresolved complaints against providers “at the earliest legislative opportunity”.

Age Concern also said the ombudsman should be adequately funded to fulfil the role.

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