National slams 'broken' healthcare system discharging elderly from hospital in middle of the night

A "broken" primary care system is seeing dozens of elderly people discharged from hospitals in the middle of the night and early hours of the morning, National Party deputy leader Shane Reti says. 

Figures show in January alone there were 156 people over 80 discharged between 1am and 8am.

Every district health board (DHB) had at least one case, Waitematā leading the way with 23. 

"That is the worst time to discharge an older person for any number of reasons - there's nothing good about discharging older people at that time of the morning," he told Newshub Nation.

"In the darkness, they're more inclined to be disoriented and confused... They're more likely to trip over, get a hip injury or other sorts of things... Where do you go and get your discharge medicines? All the pharmacies are shut."

Dr Reti suspects emergency departments are short of beds, so discharging people to make way for new arrivals. 

"If you know that you're going to need three or four beds at night, you'll know that days, at least 24 hours in advance, you should be able to plan for that rather than on very late notice, discharging people over 80 out into the community."

He says he was made aware of the problem when he was contacted by an 83-year-old. 

"That was the concern for her family and her community, that maybe she wasn't able to enunciate a reason why she shouldn't be discharged back to a rural environment, that she wasn't able to express herself adequately and make a persuasive argument why she shouldn't be discharged. So it's possible they could be taken advantage of."

Dr Reti was unable to say whether the same was happening under National's last term in power. But he said if elected, National would "make it very clear to DHBs it is unacceptable to discharge older people in these hours". 

After the interview with Dr Reti aired, Waitematā DHB said in a statement it would "never discharge a vulnerable elderly person overnight without being sure that they have appropriate supports in place".

It said four criteria had to be met before discharge: the patient (if competent) or family/caregivers accept responsibility for ongoing care; informed consent given by the patient and/or family/caregivers; the care facility to which they are being discharged has been contacted and is in a position to safely receive such patients; and appropriate transport has been organised.

"Only in situations where patients aged 80-plus meet all these criteria would they be discharged from ED overnight."

As for the number - 23 - Waitematā DHB said it had the most because it serves the highest population. 

Associate Minister of Health Peeni Henare told Newshub Nation said he would be "absolutely mortified" if his own grandmother was discharged in the middle of the night, and he would look into it.

He said there would be an announcement this week around health reforms which would "place the health sector as a whole into a different space". 

Newshub has contacted Health Minister Andrew Little for a response.

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