'Someone will die': Alarm over discharge policy

A formal complaint will be lodged over the Southern District Health Board discharging elderly patients in the middle of the night, with Grey Power claiming someone could die if it continues.

Figures released by the National Party show in January alone, the board discharged 11 hospital patients over the age of 80 between 1am and 8am.

The board admitted the issue was concerning and would be investigated further.



But Grey Power Otago president Jo Millar said she had been complaining about the problem for two years, and was told it no longer happened.

"I am completely and utterly disgusted that this is happening," she said.

She was aware of a situation where an elderly woman was discharged in Dunedin during the night, could not find the key to her house, and spent the night in her garage.

One of the biggest issues with discharging people in the middle of the night was a lack of transport home. One woman had to call her daughter in Balclutha at 2am to come and pick her up from Dunedin after being discharged, she said.

She believed people should not be discharged after 9pm.

She intended to complain to the Ministry of Health and the Health and Disability Commissioner about the problem.

"It can’t keep going on. Someone will die."

The Southern District Health Board had the eighth-highest number of middle-of-the-night discharges among New Zealand’s 20 health boards in January.

Waitemata had the highest number, at 23. Every board had at least one.

The data excluded patients who died in hospital or who were transferred to another service or facility. It also excluded patients who were at an emergency department between those hours and were not admitted to hospital.

Health board chief medical officer Dr Nigel Millar described the issue as very concerning, and said he wanted to investigate further to determine the specific situations being reported and how the information was gathered.

Appropriate care for older people was a priority, he said.

"When older people leave hospital, it should be done in a planned way and include assessing the circumstances of everyone to ensure that there was suitable family or other support where necessary.

"We would of course want to review any instances where someone believes that the discharge of an older person in the night has occurred and led to difficulties."

National Party health spokesman Shane Reti said the practice was unacceptable.

“Transitions of care between hospital and the community are often complex and fraught with danger, but especially so for older people where we know confusion can be increased at night, especially if social networks aren’t active and they are in an unfamiliar environment.

“Our elderly community deserves better support and care than this."



This is pretty concerning.. For elderly and vulnerable groups especially.. but even just a fit and cognizant adult should only be let out at that time if there is a super clear and safe plan for them to get home? Given they've just been discharged from hospital!