Hospital readmission rate warning

A rise in the proportion of southern health patients readmitted to hospital has prompted a warning it could be linked to recent budget-driven bed cuts.

Crown monitor Jan White told Southern District Health Board members at the hospital advisory committee in Dunedin this week to carefully watch acute readmission rates, as an increase could be an ''adverse outcome'' of closing beds over the summer.

The acute readmission rate refers to patients readmitted to hospital within 28 days. It was 11.7% in December, when the 50-bed reduction took effect, a slight increase on the previous month. The ''target'' for the measure is 9.2%.

Dr White rejected a claim from patient services director Lexie O'Shea that because the raw number of readmissions was the same as previously, against fewer admissions, it was not linked to the cuts.

Dr White indicated it was the proportion that mattered, not the raw number.

Dunedin Hospital has been running at high capacity, which is unusual for this time of year. On Tuesday this week the hospital was at 96% capacity, with about 30 discharges pending, a spokeswoman said.

Contacted after the meeting, New Zealand Resident Doctors Association national secretary Dr Deborah Powell expressed concern about the acute readmission rate, which was a ''key indicator'' of clinical performance. If patients were discharged early, they were at increased risk of needing to go back to hospital, she said.

Because of the cut in beds, doctors could feel pressured to ''get people out'' of wards when other patients needed to be admitted, she said. Dr White, a former chief executive of ACC, was appointed to the board last year by Health Minister Tony Ryall to oversee its finances.

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