Nurses' perceptions of discharge planning in acute health care: a case study in one British teaching hospital


Anita Atwal, Department of Health and Social Care, Brunel University, Borough Road, Isleworth, Middlesex TW7 5DU, UK. E-mail:


Aim of the study.  To provide an in-depth understanding of nurses' perceptions of the hospital discharge process in a London teaching hospital.

Background.  Discharging patients from hospital is a key component of the nurse's role in acute health care settings. It is remarkable that despite government legislationand research, which stretches back over 20 years in both Europe and North America, discharge planning remains problematic. Furthermore, it is an activity that requires collaboration between health and social care agencies. In the United Kingdom there is a new emphasis and incentive on managing acute hospital beds, which in turn results in shorter stays in hospital. In London, discharge planners face additional problems because of social, economic and environmental factors.

Method.  Using a case study design, 19 nurses were interviewed using the critical incident approach to obtain their perceptions of the discharge process. Direct observation was conducted to record interactions between nurses and health care professionals in multidisciplinary teams. In total 14 meetings were attended in elder care and orthopaedics and 7 in acute medicine.

Findings.  Aspects of the discharge process were often ignored or neglected and assessments were rarely co-ordinated. The nursing ward handover was regarded as a process that hindered communication. Lack of time was reported to be the biggest barrier that affected interprofessional working and hence the co-ordination of assessments.

Conclusion.  The findings have important implications for nurses, managers and educational establishments. It is essential that social and medical diagnoses run parallel and that accurate information is collated and communicated within the multidisciplinary team. Further research into the impact of time pressures on communication, interprofessional working and the discharge process is needed.