Hospital bed occupancy hit 95% in December

4 Jan 18

NHS England’s weekly operational data has shown that the average hospital bed occupancy rate hit 95% last month. 

Data released for the week to 17 December also showed ‘handovers’ by ambulance staff to hospitals were delayed by more than 30 minutes in 15% of cases and by more than an hour in 3.5% of cases.

NHS Providers director of policy and strategy Saffron Cordery said: “The NHS has prepared for winter as never before, and now it is clear those plans are really being put to the test. It is likely that flu and recent cold weather is now beginning to bite.

"It is worrying to see bed occupancy rates continuing to rise when they were already well above the recommended upper limit of 85%.”

Cordery said the waiting times for ambulances were concerning as this also tied up crews who could be attending other events.

She added that trusts must “take urgent decisions” on how to use the additional funding they were allocated in November’s Budget.

Richard Murray, director of policy at health think-tank the King's Fund, said: “Although these weekly data have not been fully validated, if they are right then hospital bed occupancy – a good proxy for the pressure hospitals are under – has been at even higher levels than last year.

“Given that last winter was one of the most challenging that hospitals had faced for well over a decade, it is worrying that many hospitals are already under significant pressure as they struggle to cope with increasing demand for their services.”

The Local Government Association said the NHS’s problems showed the urgent need for money to plug the £2.3bn gap in local authority social care funding that would arise by 2020.

Better funded social care would allow more people to leave hospital earlier, so freeing up space for those needing medical attention, the LGA said.

LGA chair Lord Porter said: “Councils want to help and are working hard to get people out of hospital and back into the community, close to their loved ones, this winter.

“Extra funding for social care can empower councils to prioritise prevention work which is key to reducing the pressures on the health service and keeping people out of hospital in the first place. This will help alleviate the chances of winter crises happening in the future.”

NHS England this week warned hospitals to defer non-emergency treatments until February in bid to meet demand for care.

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