Home to the unknown

British Red Cross

What happens to people once they return home from hospital? How does their experience of being discharged affect their subsequent recovery? What more can the health and social care system do to improve the transition from hospital to home?

This qualitative, place-based research for the British Red Cross offered health and social care professionals a window onto what happens to patients after they walk – or are wheeled – out of the hospital doors. Based on 28 in-home interviews and observation in four hospitals across the UK, the research showed that people’s experiences of hospital and discharge could help – or hinder – their longer-term health and wellbeing.

For those working in hospital, sending someone home is usually viewed positively: the patient has been successfully treated, they had been desperate to get home, and now their bed is free for the next patient who badly needs it.

But it’s rare for healthcare professionals to see what happens next. They tend to see a patient’s ‘discharge’ from hospital as an event, rather than just one moment in a much longer transition from hospital to home, and from illness or injury to recovery.

This research describes what it feels like to return home after an unplanned visit to hospital when there is no formal support or care.

It demonstrates that it cannot be underestimated just how much impact a person’s experience in hospital and their preparation for discharge can have on their short-term and longer-term recovery, rehabilitation and wellbeing.

This research provides qualitative evidence to inform health and social care policy and the practice and provision of services to support people returning home from hospital.