Concerns over patients ‘sent home without Covid test results’

A health watchdog has raised concerns about patients who were sent home from hospital before they got the result of their Covid-19 test.

A new investigation by Healthwatch England and the British Red Cross found that 30% of those who were tested for Covid-19 while in hospital did not receive their test results before they left, according to a poll of 500 patients and carers.

Experts said more must be done to improve hospital discharges as the second wave of Covid-19 hits alongside traditional winter pressures.

The poll also found that 82% of respondents did not receive a follow-up visit and assessment at home after being discharged. Of these, 18% had some form of unmet need.

Some told researchers they did not feel ready to leave hospital and 35% said they did not get a contact for further advice.

Healthwatch England and the British Red Cross have made a number of recommendations to help manage hospital discharges during a second peak of the crisis.

These include: post-discharge check-ins and assessments, discharge checklists and giving patients a single point of contact for further support.

Sir Robert Francis, chairman of Healthwatch England, said: “In March, hospitals were asked to discharge patients with little or no notice and the speed with which this took place was important but led to mistakes.

“We do not want to detract from the heroic efforts of those on the frontline who often put themselves at great risk to care for their patients. But services and system leaders have now had more time to prepare.

“It’s essential that we learn from what people have shared with us about the impact that a poorly-handled discharge can have on them and their loved ones.

“Taking action now will not only reduce the risk to patients but will also help improve the way people leave hospital in the future.”

British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson added: “The Red Cross has been bearing witness to these issues for years and we hope that the increased urgency of the situation will bring lasting change. Many of the people we support are older or more vulnerable and fall into the higher-risk categories for Covid-19.

“Simple interventions, like getting equipment and medicine delivered, or follow-up visits can make the difference between good recovery or someone regressing to the point of readmission – precisely at the time we want people to stay well and stay at home.”

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for the NHS in England, said: “There has long been a wide consensus about the benefits for patients of being able to return home as soon as their specialist hospital care is complete. And it is good that delays have been reduced in recent times.

“While this is a very small snapshot survey, local hospitals will want to take account of the points it makes.”

A National Audit Office report published earlier this year highlighted how, between mid-March and mid-April, patients were discharged quickly from hospitals and sometimes placed in care homes without being tested for Covid-19.

“Due to Government policy at the time, not all patients were tested for Covid-19 before discharge, with priority given to patients with symptoms,” the report said.

“On 15 April, the policy was changed to test all those being discharged into care homes.”

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