Patients are being shunted about hospitals “like parcels” in the night to alleviate pressure on bed space, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Every hospital in England was asked how many patients moved beds or wards between the hours of 11pm and 6am last year.

Of the 58 hospitals that responded, 195,372 people were shown to have been moved during the night, and 20,003 patients were moved more than once.

Some hospitals were able to provide five years of data, and this revealed night moves have increased by 17% since 2009.

“Not acceptable”

Medical experts have described the figures as “appalling”, suggesting that such practices endanger a patient’s health, with each move adding a day or two to a patient’s hospital stay.

Dr Mark Temple, Acute Care Fellow at the Royal College of Physicians, said: “The biggest concern is not just the stress to the patient but the safety aspect as well. Continuity of care is central to quality of care and it’s absolutely critical in terms of safety.”

He added: “One of the things that distresses patients the most is feeling that they’re being passed around the hospitals like parcels. Moving at any time is stressful but if it’s happening in the middle of the night it’s particularly stressful.

“They’re surfacing on a new ward with a totally new nursing team that they haven’t formed any relationship with. If a patient is elderly and frail they may develop a number of different conditions and may get shuttled around and that’s not acceptable.”

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, emphasised the dehumanising aspect of passing patients from ward to ward. “It’s not very dignified and it’s not very compassionate”, she said.

“Moving people in the middle of the night is so far removed from the idea of putting the patient first.”

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