Patient harm and institutional avoidability of out-of-hours discharge from intensive care: An analysis using mixed methods

Sarah Vollam, Natalie Pattison, Hilary Thomas, Owen Gustafson, Peter Watkinson, Lauren Morgan

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Out-of-hours discharge from ICU to the ward is associated with increased in-hospital mortality and ICU readmission. Little is known about why this occurs. We map the discharge process and describe the consequences of out-of-hours discharge to inform practice changes to reduce the impact of discharge at night.
This study was part of the REFLECT mixed methods study. We defined out-of-hours discharge as 16:00 - 07:59h. We undertook 20 in-depth case record reviews where in-hospital death after ICU discharge had been judged ‘probably avoidable’ in previous retrospective structured judgement reviews, and 20 where patients survived. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 55 patients, family members and staff with experience of ICU discharge processes. These, along with a stakeholder focus group, informed ICU discharge process mapping using the Human Factors-based Functional Analysis Resonance Method (FRAM).
Three UK NHS hospitals, chosen to represent different hospital settings.
Patients discharged from ICU, their families and staff involved in their care.
Measurements and Main Results:
Out-of-hours discharge was common. Patients and staff described out-of-hours discharge as unsafe due to a reduction in staffing and skill mix at night. Patients discharged out-of-hours were commonly discharged prematurely, had inadequate handover, were physiologically unstable and did not have deterioration recognised or escalated appropriately. We identified five interdependent functions key to facilitating timely ICU discharge: multi-disciplinary team decision for discharge; patient prepared for discharge; bed meeting; bed manager allocation of beds; and ward bed made available.
We identified significant limitations in out-of-hours care provision following overnight discharged from ICU. Transfer to the ward before 16:00 should be facilitated where possible. Our work highlights changes to help make day time discharge more likely. Where discharge after 16:00 is unavoidable, support systems should be implemented to ensure the safety of patients discharged from ICU at night.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalCritical Care Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2022


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