A DEMENTIA sufferer was left freezing in a hospital gown outside her flat after being sent home from Stoke Mandeville in a taxi at 2am.

Health chiefs are investigating after furious daughter Julie Smith lodged a formal complaint – saying staff should have telephoned her when her mum was discharged.

Her 85-year-old mum had been taken by ambulance to a busy Stoke Mandeville Hospital late on Saturday, January 12 after complaining of breathing problems.

Julie says she was set to travel up to Aylesbury from her home in Sands, High Wycombe, to be with her but was advised not to by staff.

The 58-year-old told the Bucks Free Press: “I don't drive but was prepared to go over there. I was told there was no point at this stage as they will be checking her over.

“I gave them my contact details to let me know what was happening. By 3am on the 13th I was still waiting to hear, so rang A&E to be told by the receptionist that she had been discharged at 2am in a taxi.

“I was just amazed that they discharged her. They could have kept her till the morning or they could have contacted me because I was up and awake.”

Julie became worried as her mum, who she asked not be named, has begun suffering from dementia. She immediately called the taxi firm to find her mum was having problems directing the taxi driver to her sheltered home in Wooburn Green.

She had a three-way conversation with the control room and driver to direct the taxi to the right place, before being phoned back because her mum had no money or keys.

Julie paid over the phone by credit card and asked the driver to see her mum to the door and let her in with the spare key from the key safe. She and the call button emergency service then tried phoning her mum’s flat, but could not get an answer.

Julie, of Mill End Road, said: “We decided to let her be...that all this had upset her and I would give her some time and then call her. It was 5.30am by this time.

“At 6.30am I got a call from mum’s neighbour to say they had found her sitting in the lobby in just a hospital gown, so the taxi driver hadn't put her in her flat, the ambulance service had taken her without a bag with keys...and why was she sent home in a hospital gown on one of the coldest nights of this New Year?

“It was all so disorientating and upsetting for her.”

Julie said her mum’s clothes were also lost at the hospital, which was experiencing ‘serious operational problems’ that weekend, according to official NHS reports. A spike in winter illnesses such as norovirus had led to bed shortages and a surge of patients at the A&E department (see related links).

Sarah Hills, a spokesman for Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust [BHT], which runs the hospital, said: “We are sorry to hear that Mrs Smith was unhappy with the care provided by the Trust when planning the discharge of her mother from our A&E department.

“We have been in contact with Mrs Smith regarding her concerns and are looking into the issues raised. We take all complaints seriously and take lessons from the outcomes of our investigations, where necessary.

“It is unusual for us to see a complaint such as this which is why we have already started looking into the circumstances surrounding this case."

The chief nurse at BHT has since issued another statement apologising for the way the discharge was handled - CLICK HERE

More than 2,600 patients were discharged from Buckinghamshire’s hospitals between the hours of 11pm and 6am last year.

The overnight discharge totals for 2011/12, obtained by the BFP using Freedom of Information laws, equate to about 2.5 per cent of patients.

About two-thirds [1,849] were from Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which is the only one of the county’s hospitals with an A&E ward. Most others [806] were from Wycombe Hospital.

Bucks hospital chiefs said: "We work with patients and their families when planning discharges from our wards and departments and we have policies and procedures in place to discharge patients during the night only if we are confident they have the appropriate care in place at their place of residence."