HALF a million fewer NHS patients will be admitted to hospital after turning up to A&E under new money-saving plans.
They claim it will ease pressure on casualty units and be welcomed by patients who are often keen to return home without an overnight stay.
But patient groups last night warned it could put people at risk of harm if they are discharged too soon in the drive to hit targets.
They may have to be readmitted at a later date in even worse health.
The demands come as the number of overnight NHS beds in England has been slashed by 12 per cent since 2010 to 127,589.
Staying in hospital too long increases the risk of picking up a superbug. Elderly patients may also become more frail and delirious.
PATIENTS PUT AT RISK OF HARM
Rachel Power, from the Patients Association, said: “For some people, well-judged immediate care could be exactly the right thing.
“That said, the NHS already has a problem of unsafe discharge because of a lack of community support from both NHS and social services, with people being sent home overnight or without any arrangement for follow-up care in their own homes.
“There is also sometimes a problem of discharge being simply too early, when the patient does require more time in hospital to get well.
“This scheme will be at risk of both.
“As well as reducing admission rates, it will have to show that the same patients are not simply re-presenting at hospital with the same problems in the following days and weeks.”
Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, said: “Nobody wants to spend the night in hospital but it is sometimes the safest place to be.
“It is important people are admitted and discharged on the basis of their health and not because of targets or a shortage of beds.”
Prof Stephen Powis, from NHS England, said: “For seriously ill people a hospital stay is often unavoidable, but we know that too many people – particularly the frail and elderly – are ending up trapped on wards for days on end.
“With modern technology we can now offer many more ill patients access to new rapid tests and optimal treatments from senior doctors all in the same day and avoid admission.
“That’s more convenient for our patients, and more efficient for the NHS.
“More people could be safely back at home on the same day, and at the same time more hospital beds can be freed up for those who need them most.”