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Ward moves putting patients at risk

Published on 29 July 2013 10:30 AM

Shipping older patients from ward to ward in hospitals is putting their health and wellbeing at risk, experts say.

Professor Marion McMurdo and Dr Miles Witham from the University of Dundee state that unnecessary ward moves are becoming 'increasingly common' across the country and have adverse consequences for those involved.


They claim that more and more consultants are moving patients from their own specialty ward to other areas of the hospital to accommodate new patients.

This practice, known as 'boarding', may seem innocent enough, but Prof McMurdo and Dr Witham say that the changes in environment can increase the risk of falls or delirium - problems that are associated with risk of serious injury and higher death rates.

Older patients are particularly vulnerable, especially if they are shipped out of specialist wards designed to cater for people their age.

Moving older patients also means they are less likely to receive established geriatric assessments, which can reduce the number of hospital admissions in the future.

'Boarding is sometimes viewed as a necessary evil - at least compared to the alternative of having no bed in which to admit patients from the overflowing acute admissions unit,' said Prof McMurdo.

'Yet at a systems level, boarding appears to be a false economy - every ward move increases length of stay thus exacerbating the very problem that boarding attempts to circumvent. Worse still, frequent moves around a hospital are likely increase the risk of infection transmission.'

Concerns over quality of care

A recent survey of medical staff found that 92% of doctors would refuse to have a relative of theirs boarded out - highlighting concerns about the quality of care received by patients who are moved around the hospital environment.

'Older people are among the most frail in hospital and often have the most complex needs,' commented Michelle Mitchell, charity director general of Age UK. 'So it's very disturbing to hear that they are regularly being moved from ward to ward to make space for new patients - putting their care and recuperation at risk.

'This practice only makes it more likely that older patients will spend longer in hospital and be rapidly readmitted because they have not received the proper care and attention they need.'

'It's in the interest of both hospital and patients that older people are not shifted around to solve bed shortages but get carefully planned care.'

Copyright Press Association 2013

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Last updated: Dec 05 2018

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