12/04/2012 07:38 BST | Updated 12/04/2012 08:41 BST

NHS Patients Discharged From Hospital 'Alone In The Middle Of The Night'

A 94-year-old man discharged alone at 1am and an 80-year-old man sent home wearing just pyjamas, who died several hours later, are two examples of worrying night-time discharges on a patients' feedback website.

The news comes after Freedom of Information requests from The Times (£) revealed hundreds of thousands of patients are being sent home from hospital in the middle of the night to relieve pressure on beds.

Some 3.5% of all hospital discharges took place between 11pm and 6am, a rate that has held steady for the last five years, the paper found.

The newspaper submitted Freedom of Information requests to all 170 NHS hospital trusts in England, asking for details of patients discharged between those hours.

Some 100 trusts responded, saying that 239,233 patients had been sent home at that time last year.

Separately a whistleblower, describing herself as a "staff member", wrote about three cases of elderly patients being sent home "in the middle of the night" from the Diana Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby.

Writing on the Patient Opinion website, where patients and medical staff write about good and bad experiences, the woman wrote: "(1) An 82-year-old lady fell and broke her wrist, she was taken to A&E and it was x-rayed and set in a pot.

"The lady was sent home at 3am to her flat where she lived alone. The lady had no relatives and was expected to manage all alone with no care.

"(2) A 94-year-old gentleman was sent home from hospital at 1am after being taken in earlier by ambulance with breathing problems, on arrival back at his flat it became clear that he could not get out of car without his wheelchair, that was locked in his flat on the 10th floor.

"The taxi driver refused to go and get it and a support officer from the building had to be called out.

"(3) An 80-year-old gentleman was sent home in the early hours of the morning after suffering chest pains.

"The staff of A&E felt it was appropriate to give the gentleman morphine and put him in a taxi with just a thin pair of pyjamas.

"The gentleman died several hours later of a heart attack."

One patient in the Isle of Wight wrote that he was treated well in hospital but criticised the discharge procedure in which he was sent home barefoot.

"After a period of observation while my condition stabilised I was told I was fit for discharge at 4.30am," he wrote.

"I was barefoot in my night clothes and had no money, having been brought in by ambulance.

"The buses weren't running and I eventually had to go home by taxi and pay a £40 fare as I live in West Wight.

"I think more consideration could be made to discharging people in the middle of the night who have no transport and are not clothed appropriately as it was very undignified."

Katherine Murphy Chief Executive of the Patients Association called for the Department of Health, the Care Quality Commission and Andrew Lansley to intervene in response to the news.

“Discharging patients often elderly and vulnerable late at night is totally inconsiderate and unacceptable and displays no compassion or thought for the individual patient.

"Hospitals may think it is convenient for them to ask people to leave in the middle of the night but is it convenient and safe for a patient who may well have been in hospital for a considerable amount of time, to go home without any warning to an empty cold house – how patient centred is this?

I"t is a totally unacceptable practice in what is supposed to be a caring environment. We regularly receive calls to our Helpline from patients and relatives shocked at this callous, cruel and thoughtless behaviour," she said in a statement.

In response to news of the timing of patients being discharged, Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, said: "I am concerned to hear that some patients may be being discharged unnecessarily late.

"Patients should only be discharged when it's clinically appropriate, safe and convenient for them and their families.

"It is simply not fair to be sending people home late at night. We will look at this."