Hospital trusts are being unfairly penalised by bearing the cost of readmissions which are not their fault, according to the Foundation Trust Network.
A summary of audits carried out by 13 member trusts found that about half of readmissions were clinically unconnected to the condition that caused the original admission.
Between 20 and 30 per cent of readmissions were unavoidable due to best practice care pathways, such as for palliative care or clinical haematology, which could still require patients to first present themselves to accident and emergency departments before being admitted.
The network said this left only a small number of cases that could be attributed to poor performance of hospitals.
From April this year commissioners have had the discretion not to pay trusts for readmissions within 30 days of an elective admission. The government encouraged commissioners to use the savings to fund re-ablement or admissions-avoidance programmes.
Under the policy, emergency readmissions following elective procedures will cost hospital trusts an average of £2.3m a year, a separate piece of research by the network showed. The yearly cost to the acute sector is now estimated at £470m, down from the original prediction of £790m.
The survey suggests the reason for this change may be that roughly half of commissioners had chosen not to fully implement the rules and instead capped penalties or applied them only to readmissions for certain procedures. The Department of Health has already committed to reviewing the policy and an announcement is expected in October.
Foundation Trust Network chief executive Sue Slipman said: “We will continue to push for change in this policy. We have recommended that only people returning to hospital with the same or a closely related complaint should be counted.
“The network is keen to pursue further discussions on how this policy is operating and how it could be amended.”