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RCEM: NHS in England needs over 4,000 extra beds this winter to avoid ‘corridor care’

30 October 2019

The NHS in England will need at least 4,000 extra beds to prevent thousands of patients being treated in corridors this winter.

Analysis of NHS figures by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine suggest that in order to keep bed occupancy at a safe level, and keep emergency departments moving, between 4,000 and 6,000 staffed beds will be needed.

President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Katherine Henderson, said: “Our number one priority is to put an end to ‘corridor care’ this winter. To do this we will need at least 4,000 extra staffed beds.

“Emergency Departments aim to have most patients treated and back home on the same day. But nearly a third of all patients who go to major A&Es needed to be admitted to a bed.

“A lack of beds means that many patients have to wait long times in undignified conditions – often on a trolley in a corridor. Last year nearly a third of a million people waited for over 12 hours.

“No patient should have to experience this for even a couple of hours, let alone for over half a day as some do.

“But since Quarter 1 of 2010/11 we have lost over 15,000 beds from the system. Cuts to the bed base must be reversed otherwise we will end up seeing more patients stranded for hours on trolleys in crowded corridors.

“Bed occupancy during winter last year was an average of 93.5% – far higher than the recommended safe level of 85%. This was despite a mild winter, with the lowest number of bed closures due to norovirus in years.

“This summer has been the worst ever in terms of the number of patients waiting – from the decision to admit them, and not time of arrival – over 12 hours for a bed.

“This is a difficult position to be going into winter in. Without more beds, with appropriate nursing staffing, we fear we may be in for another record-breaking winter.

“Performance against the four-hour standard at large A&Es was just 77% last month and declining performance is linked to declining bed numbers.

“This is bad for patients and demoralising for hardworking staff.

“We saw good work last year to free up beds as quickly as possible, and an increasing focus on Same Day Emergency Care is very welcome, but these initiatives need to be in place alongside adequate bed numbers.

“The head of the NHS has also said we need more beds this winter. For the sake of our patients we must find a way to make it happen.”


Notes to Editors
The calculation of 4,000 beds is based on the number of beds required to move to 85% bed occupancy across all bed categories rather than just General and Acute – which would give a higher 6,000 figure.

The calculation is based on actual and required bed numbers for Q3 2018-19.

The College’s 2019/20 Winter Flow begins reporting next month and will publish weekly aggregated performance figures from 50 trusts and boards across the UK, including the number of patients waiting 12 hours, or experiencing ‘corridor care’.

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