Concerns have been raised that hundreds of thousands of elderly patients are being sent home from hospital before they are well enough after new figures showed that emergency readmission rates have doubled in the last decade.
The number of over-75s in England who have to undergo emergency readmission to hospital hit 201,000 in 2010/11, research conducted by data experts Ssentif Intelligence revealed.
The figure is a stark rise from 2001/2 when the readmission rate for this age group stood at 103,000 a year.
A shocking 16% of all over-75s need emergency readmission within 28 days of discharge, Ssentif said.
But performance around the country varies significantly. Readmission rates in the South West are 12.98% and in London the figure stands at 17.06%.
Ssentif said Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust, Birmingham Women's NHS Foundation Trust and West Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust all reported readmission rates of more than 20% - meaning one in five over-75s treated at the trusts could have been sent home prematurely.
Across all ages, 650,000 patients were readmitted as an emergency in 2010/11 - a considerable rise from 380,000 patients in 2001/2.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: "These figures showing rising readmissions are of huge concern for patients. Too often patients, relatives and carers contact our helpline about inappropriate discharges, with patients being sent home without proper planned care in place, at a time when they are incredibly vulnerable. This sadly leads to readmissions, and sometimes even more tragic consequences.
"We need a more integrated NHS, so that readmissions don't continue to lead to poor patient care and huge financial costs to the NHS. Urgent action is needed to bring down these unacceptable figures."
A West Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust spokeswoman said: "Over the past year, West Middlesex has been working closely with the primary care trust and local authority to improve the care pathway for older people, with a particular focus on preventing avoidable readmissions. We have established a specialist team of nursing and therapy staff who assess the needs of older patients when they arrive at the hospital, to ensure that all of their care and support needs are met during their stay and that their discharge is safe and they are full supported once they leave hospital."