Cash prizes for staff in race to get patients out of hospital

The country’s largest hospital has been offering its staff cash prizes of up to €500 as part of a competition to help get discharged patients to vacate their beds early in the day.

The contest, which has been under way at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, is aimed at improving patient flow, and freeing up the beds of people who are leaving the facility.

However, the method used – involving prizes for ward teams which perform best – has led to accusations of bad taste by some patients.

The competition is promoted in a poster emblazoned with the word “Win!” offering the ward that sends the most patients to the discharge lounge before 11am a €500 prize.

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The “most improved use of the lounge” prize was €250 and the same cash incentive was offered for the medical team that sent the most patients there.

The poster says: “The battle is on – don’t miss out.”

When contacted by the Irish Independent yesterday, a hospital spokeswoman later responded by saying: “These posters have been removed and will be redesigned. We apologise for any offence caused”.

It is unclear whether the incentive scheme, due to run for four months, will continue in its current form.

“The scheme currently being run in the discharge lounge is to encourage and remind wards that this facility is available to them and patients,” said the spokeswoman.

The hospital believed that prizes could help improve the patient environment and aid staff development.

The hospital spokeswoman said “the prizes from the incentive scheme will be used to improve the patient environment and for staff development on a ward”.

She said that the discharge lounge provides a safe, clinical alternative to the ward area where patients, who have been discharged by their physician, can wait for their discharge documentation and transport home.

“Transferring patients to the discharge lounge means that beds are vacated in a more timely fashion on the wards.

“This system allows the hospital to effectively monitor admissions, discharges and patient movement throughout the hospital in order to prioritise acute inpatient beds.

“This is especially important for patients in the emergency department who are waiting for a bed,” she said.

The “strategic goal” of the discharge lounge is to improve patient flow throughout the hospital.

“The staff, including the nursing staff in the discharge lounge, can schedule follow-up appointments for the patients, ensure GP letters are completed and prescriptions, if required, can be filled before the patient leaves the hospital,” she added.

The move comes as hospitals are desperate to speed up the movement of patients and free up beds to reduce a backlog of trolleys in A&E departments.

Retired emergency consultant Dr Patrick Plunkett said yesterday that he developed the discharge lounge 20 years ago.

“They had nursing supervision for their drug administration, meals when required and a comfortable environment,” he said.

He added they may be waiting for an ambulance, or for someone to collect them who was travelling from a rural area of the country.

The discharge lounge left the bed on the ward available for ‘turnaround’.

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