Scandal of the Hospital Patients Sent Home to Die
Byline: MARK AITKEN
THOUSANDS of hospital patients are dying within weeks of being sent home by doctors.
Almost 6,000 people died last year in the first 28 days after being released.
The disclosure has raised fears that officials are bundling patients out of wards before they are ready because of pressure to free up beds and cut waiting lists.
Figures obtained by The Scottish Mail on Sunday show that 5,985 people died in 2005 within four weeks of being discharged, up from 5,662 in 2000.
Although the elderly accounted for the majority of the deaths, almost 1,300 of the victims were aged under 65.
The figures coincide with a report which shows that over the same period, despite record investment from the Scottish Executive, nearly 1,000 beds have been axed from the NHS and the average hospital stay dropped from 6.4 days to 6.1 days.
Scottish ministers have recently claimed success in slashing the average wait for hospital treatment.
But last night opposition politicians and health experts expressed concern that the cut may be at the expense of patient care.
They demanded an inquiry into the number of people dying less than a month after being discharged from hospital.
Margaret Davidson, chief executive of Scotland Patients Association, said: 'A shortage of beds and pressure on hospitals to meet government targets could be reasons for this trend.
'Patients leaving hospital should be fully fit. But hospitals are sending patients home too soon because they are desperate for beds.
'Discharging people should be about the good of the patients, not the good of statistics. Even one patient dying because they left hospital too soon is one too many.' Irenee O'Neill, of the Independent Federation of Nursing, said: 'There is some correlation between these statistics and the medical philosophy now to have patients discharged as quickly as possible.
'Yes, we do want to free up beds, but we don't want to see that at the cost of lives - and it would appear to me that is what is happening.
'It is astounding that nowadays heart attack patients, for instance, can be home in seven to ten days.
That is far too short a time for patients undergoing such major surgery.
'Previously, staff would err on the side of caution by keeping patients in slightly longer than necessary. …