Hundreds of thousands of patients are moved between hospital wards with no clinical justification, risking the spread of infection.

Transfers between wards are a well known cause of outbreaks, as they reduce the ability of hospitals to contain infections. Patient transfers can also result in a disruption in patient care as notes are misplaced and observations missed.

Only a few hospitals monitor their patient transfers. Analysis of data from those hospitals collected by HSJ’s sister title Nursing Times suggests that nationally there are around 1.3 million patient bed moves each year for non-clinical reasons.

Eighty-eight trusts responded to a Nursing Times freedom of information request asking for data about patient transfers. Only six hospitals were able to distinguish between clinically justified transfers - such as when a patient needed a lower dependency unit or a different specialty - and non-clinically justified transfers.

Their rates ranged from 0.4 per cent of inpatients at Frimley Park Hospital Foundation Trust and 12 per cent at Southampton University Hospitals Trust and Taunton and Somerset Foundation Trust. Across the six trusts the average monthly rate of non-clinical transfers was 8.8 per cent of total inpatients.

Royal College of Nursing emergency care adviser Alan Dobson said: “Patients are often moved around the hospital for non-clinical reasons and it’s unacceptable.”