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25.05.17

Overnight bed occupancy hits highest ever level

Fresh warnings have been made about overnight bed occupancy as it was today revealed that rates in UK hospitals hit the highest level in the first three months of 2017 since records began.

Despite the recommended safe limit for bed occupancy lying at 85%, average overnight occupancy in hospitals from January to March this year soared to 91.4%.

In March, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens announced that STPs would have to pass a “care test,” before closing more hospital beds in an attempt to stop leads taking away beds in an attempt to save money.

But today’s figures show that there is still a major problem with overnight bed occupancy that is threatening to put patient safety at risk.

“These figures reflect the extraordinary pressures NHS trusts faced during the winter,” said NHS Providers CEO Chris Hopson.

“It is important to note these totals expressed as an average do not convey the full extent of the challenges in particular places at particular times, where some services were close to being overwhelmed.”

Hopson added that his organisation was aware that quality of care, including patient safety, was at risk of being compromised when occupancy regularly went above 85%.

“This puts staff under intolerable pressure,” he argued. “There is an increased risk of infection. And crucially, it means hospitals have less capacity to cope with unpredictable events.

“NHS trusts are working at capacity levels beyond those which other international health systems would regard as acceptable, with fewer beds per head of population.”

Hopson stated that high demand for social care services was having a knock-on effect on healthcare as fit patients were unable to move out of hospital as there was no room in community care.

“The situation is unsustainable,” Hopson concluded. “We have to ensure the NHS has the capacity to deal with growing demand. And we must act quickly, to prepare for next winter.”

This follows a number of previous statements about the high rate of bed occupancy in UK hospitals, as a joint letter from the Royal College of Surgeons and NHS Providers stated that surgeons were “kicking their heels” waiting to operate due to a lack of beds. The BMA also claimed in February that the bed crisis was leading to a ‘mismatch’ between NHS supply and demand.

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