An unplanned transfer occurs when a patient has to be unexpectedly transferred from one hospital to another.

What is an unplanned patient transfer?
What unplanned transfers can tell you about a hospital?
Your checklist

What is an unplanned patient transfer?

When a patient experiences complications either during surgery or in recovery, and their hospital cannot provide the acute care they need, they will be transferred to another hospital. 

In most cases they will be transferred via ambulance to a local NHS hospital which has an emergency department/intensive care unit facilities to provide critical care. 

On a hospital’s profile you will see two numbers published which are based on the latest 12 months of information they have provided: 

  •  the total number of unplanned transfers and
  • the rate of unplanned transfers for every 1,000 patients

Hospitals treating a large number of complex patients may have a higher number of unplanned transfers but could have a lower rate. Looking at the rate as well as the count makes it easier to compare hospitals of different sizes.

What unplanned transfers can tell you about a hospital?

Healthcare providers that record and report their adverse events such as unplanned hospital transfers are likely to have a strong focus on patient safety, so the first thing you should look for is whether your hospital is monitoring and reporting this information. The hospital’s profile will show whether this information is missing, and if it is, this should prompt a conversation about what this might mean for your care.

The rate of unplanned transfers is an important indicator of patient safety. Even with the best of preventative measures in place these events can happen. However, if a hospital has a higher rate this may lead to questions of whether they are treating appropriate patients.

For example, unplanned transfers can be a sign that a hospital’s pre-assessment of inpatients might not be adequate, and they could be treating patients with more complex needs than that are properly equipped to deal with.

If you have complex health needs and are concerned about the chance of complications during your treatment, you may want to discuss this with the hospital. All hospitals will have an arrangement with a local hospital with critical care facilities.

Your checklist

  1. Check your preferred hospital’s profile on our website. If they are not reporting incidences of unplanned transfers, what could this mean for your care?
  2. Understand the hospital’s unplanned transfer rate. How does it compare to other hospitals in the area?
  3. Ask questions. Use the information provided to ask your GP or consultant about unplanned transfer arrangements they have in place should they be needed.

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