Dacorum councillor concerned out-patients may have been discharged without their knowledge
Cllr Rob Beauchamp raised the issue with managing director of the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group David Evans
Concerns have been raised that patients may have been ‘discharged’ from west Hertfordshire hospitals – without their knowledge or consent.
During the pandemic many routine hospital appointments were paused – as health chiefs focussed on treating patients with Covid-19 and halting the spread of the virus.
But at a meeting of the county’s heath scrutiny committee on Monday, October 11, it was suggested that some out-patients – who thought they were waiting for their next routine hospital appointment to be scheduled – have been discharged.
And – said Dacorum Cllr Rob Beauchamp – they had been told that to return to the department they would need a new referral from their GP.
Cllr Beauchamp told the committee that he had become aware of a number of patients who, before the pandemic, had regularly attended hospital appointments – every three or six months.
But only when they had rung-up recently to check when their next appointment was due were they told they had already been ‘discharged’.
Cllr Beauchamp – who highlighted ear, nose and throat services – raised the issue with managing director of the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group David Evans. And he asked if there had been a change in the process.
Cllr Beauchamp said that for a couple of the more elderly patients this had been ‘distressing’.
And – with hospitals now reporting record waiting times in the wake of the pandemic – he said they had feared that they may be stuck at the back of the queue.
But Mr Evans said that nothing should have changed in the process – stressing that once referred to a hospital for secondary care patients should only be discharged if their treatment was complete.
“If you have been referred by a GP into secondary care, secondary care should hold you irrespective of the waiting lists, and should process you as part of that journey to get your treatment,” he said.
“If you are currently on a caseload there should be no other reason for them to discharge you – other than your care has come to an end and you have been handed back to primary care to manage you.”
Mr Evans offered to look into individual cases. And he added: “The process should not have changed. If the practice has changed then I would like to be aware and we can work out what that solution is.”
Mr Evans did reference a period of time when referrals ceased at the peak of the first wave – but he said those cases were then re-triaged and prioritised to go forward to be treated. And he said that this was now some time ago.
At the meeting Cllr Beauchamp also said that when these patients had raised it with their GPs, their doctors have said that to their knowledge they are still listed as being given secondary care.
Officials from the West Herts Hospital Trust – which operates Watford General, Hemel Hempstead and St Albans City hospitals – were not at the meeting.
However, in response to the issue raised, a statement later issued from director of performance Jane Shentall says: “Unfortunately we had to cancel most non-urgent activity including appointments and surgery during the pandemic as we redeployed staff to manage our pandemic response.
“We are sorry if some patients may have missed or not received their cancellation letters.
“We urge anyone who thinks they may need help to speak to their GP who can make a referral or seek advice and guidance from the trust.”