Hospital Dr News

NHS trusts already full at the start of winter despite NHS England planning

NHS England data shows that trusts are already under significant pressure at the start of the winter period.

The figures also show that hospitals in England were 94.5% full last week – far over the 85% limit that is regarded as the maximum in order to ensure safety.

Furthermore, 10,184 people had to wait at least half an hour in the back of an ambulance last week because A&E units were at capacity.

NHS England and NHS Improvement wrote to all 240 NHS trusts in England on 7 November telling them to ensure no patient ended up being cared for in a corridor or having to wait 12 hours on a trolley to be admitted this winter.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: “These figures show a service under huge pressure with little or no spare capacity as the NHS approaches its busiest time of the year. The concern is that that if there is a serious flu outbreak or cold snap the system would really struggle to deal with a spike in demand.

“Last week, 11 A&Es needed to divert ambulances to another hospital because they had reached capacity. More than ten thousand patients each day waited at least a half hour in an ambulance before being admitted to the emergency department. In recent weeks, half of NHS trusts operated at over 95 per cent bed occupancy, with one in seven trusts at 99 per cent capacity, far short of the number of available beds required for hospitals to safely accommodate patients.

“The extra cash promised in the budget for the NHS this winter may alleviate some short term pressure but will not address the long term needs of the NHS and it’s a sticking plaster solution.”

The figures show that an average of 790 beds, both occupied and unoccupied, were shut each day because of norovirus outbreaks.

On the positive side, no A&E unit had to close completely because it could not cope with a surge in demand from patients needing care.

Controversially, NHS England will not publish this winter’s figures for the number of trusts forced to issue an alert under the operational pressures escalation levels (Opel) framework system.

Critics have accused them of “unacceptable secrecy” and suggest the move is aimed to avoid “bad news” for the government.

Between 27 November and 3 December, 8,340 people waited in an ambulance for 30-60 minutes and another 1,844 waited for more than an hour.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “The NHS has prepared for winter this year more intensely than ever before, developing robust plans to manage expected increased pressures, as well as create contingency plans to cover exceptional surges in demand.”

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