Hospitals told to consider legal action against patients refusing to leave beds

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 03: An NHS sign sits on the outside of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital on January 3, 2018 in London, England. Hospitals in the UK have been advised to postpone all non-urgent operations until the end of January as the NHS struggles to cope with the surge in patients over the winter period. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

NHS England has called on healthcare officials to consider taking legal action against patients who refuse to give up their hospital beds if further care options are available.

Patient safety charities have raised concerns about the potential for unsafe discharges after the Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported that NHSE guidance urged trusts to consider following the “local discharge choice policy,” which could involve legal action, if someone “with mental capacity” refuses to leave a bed because they do not accept NHS-funded short-term care offers.

The guidance, sent in December, says the process “may include seeking an order for possession of the hospital bed” under civil law, and that “appropriate formal notification of the process must be given to the person and their representatives/carers,” the HSJ states.

threatening patients with legal action has to surely be the very last resort when absolutely every other option has been explored with the patient and exhausted

These legal powers were already in place before the pandemic struck but the NHSE guidance comes at a time when the under-pressure service is being called on to reduce delayed discharges.

Patients Association chief executive Rachel Power said that “trusts who follow this advice from NHS England may desperately need the capacity” but warned that “premature discharge is often an unsafe discharge from hospital.”

She said: “We recognise the NHS is in a bind and lacks options to increase capacity, but threatening patients with legal action has to surely be the very last resort when absolutely every other option has been explored with the patient and exhausted.

“Decisions should always be made with the patient and his or her carers, not imposed on the patient.

“Patients may be reluctant to leave hospital if they’re worried about how they will be cared for.”

Charlotte Augst, the chief executive of National Voices, accepts that services are under pressure and it is important for the NHS to only have people in hospital beds who really need them.