Hospital Dr News

“NHS needs up to 10,000 more beds to meet demand pressures this winter”

Hospital A&E departments in England are on course for their worst winter on record and that up to 10,000 additional hospital beds will be needed for patients to be cared for safely.

The analysis, by the BMA, shows that over 300,000 patients could be left waiting on hospital trolleys in emergency care departments for more than four hours before being admitted.

The new figures build on a recent BMA analysis of NHS England data from the past seven years.

This painted a picture of rising pressure on emergency care departments, with the most recent winter showing record levels of admissions.

200,000 more patients were left stranded on hospital trolleys in emergency care departments than in the same period in 2011 while new lows were registered for other key indicators, such as the four hour wait to be seen on arrival.

By analysing bed occupancy rates and trends from previous winters, the BMA has produced a likely picture for January to March 2019 and predictions on how many beds the NHS in England needs.

This analysis suggests 10,000 extra hospital beds are needed.

The key findings on bed occupancy include:

  • Last winter, bed occupancy in general and acute beds peaked at 95.1% in February 2018, despite guidance from the National Audit Office suggesting occupancy should not exceed 85% to avoid impacting on the quality of care.
  • High bed occupancy leads to issues across all hospital departments and is often a decisive factor in the decision to cancel planned operations (for example last winter, which saw tens of thousands of operations cancelled with little warning).
  • To even maintain occupancy at this high rate, the NHS had to open between four and five thousand temporary escalation beds from January to March.
  • To bring bed occupancy down to the recommended minimum safe limit of 92%, the NHS in England this winter will need to continue using 5,000 escalation beds opened at the peak of the winter crisis last year and will need an additional 5,000 general and acute beds.

This winter, without extra resources, the BMA believes approximately 238,000 patients will spend more than four hours waiting to be admitted to hospital, 12,000 higher than the record from the previous winter.

If conditions deteriorate more dramatically, a staggering 305,000 could endure long waits on trolleys.

Dr Rob Harwood, BMA consultant committee chair, said: “The NHS is facing an all year crisis that is leaving patients in an intolerable situation. This winter could be the worst on record for frontline emergency care departments.

“A key part of this problem is the lack of available beds within the NHS system. Last winter saw incredibly high levels of bed occupancy, well above recommended limits, and despite thousands of escalation beds being put into action temporarily.

“The government must address these endemic resource issues that are denying patients the level of care they deserve.”

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