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NHS crisis continues as hospital bed numbers near capacity

Thursday 22 February 2024

The government must act urgently to reduce overcrowding.

That is the response of RCEM (The Royal College of Emergency Medicine) as new data shows that bed occupancy figures remain well above safe levels.

The latest Urgent and Emergency Care Situation Reports (Sitreps) published today by NHS England cover the week (12-18 February) and show the average daily bed occupancy stood at 95.5%. Based on this week’s figures, an additional 11,828 available beds would have been required to bring bed occupancy down to the level considered to be ‘safe’ (85%) in General and Acute care.

Commenting on these data, Dr Ian Higginson, Vice President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said:

“There is no respite in sight with acute and general care bed occupancy at dangerously high levels. Our departments remain seriously overcrowded.

“The government cannot continue to ignore the reality that our patients experience and which these data represent. What will it take for them to acknowledge the issues? The silence is deafening. The inaction, verging on negligent.

“The expectation on emergency medicine doctors, nurses and other staff to be there for those in need remains. Staff in emergency care are trying to make a broken system work, but they are under resourced, often working under impossible conditions.

“The government must not try to blame the problems in the urgent care system on strikes. This crisis is caused by years of poor policy decisions leading to under-funding, lack of staff, lack of beds, and inadequate community and social care.

“We have a clear manifesto with five priorities to #ResuscitateEmergencyCare. There is no time for further procrastination. We urge those with power and influence to act now to prioritise resourcing and repair the healthcare system.”

The data also reports:

  • The daily average number of G&A beds occupied by flu patients was 2,090, a decrease of 197 patients compared with last week (2,287)
  • A total of 23,494 hours were lost to delays over 30 minutes, equivalent to 140 weeks’ worth of time in just one week
  • A daily average of 18,969 patients occupied a bed for 21 or more days. This was an increase of 121 patients compared to last week
  • More than half of patients who no longer met the criteria to reside remained in hospital (56.3%). This is a decrease of 0.3 percentage points compared with last week
  • There was a daily average of 12,768 ambulance handovers (arrivals) by ambulance, a weekly total of 89,377
  • National guidance states that patients arriving at an ED by ambulance must be handed over to the ED within 15 minutes. In week 14, only 35% of handovers met this guidance.

This comes as the New Hospitals Programme team have eased back on the assumed rise in bed occupancy. The working assumptions of bed occupancy levels have reduced from 95% to 92%. RCEM maintains the ‘safe’ level is 85% occupancy.

Full analysis of the data is available on the RCEM website.

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