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RCEM welcomes NHS England’s extra beds but cautions much more action is needed

25 January 2024

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has welcomed the increase in hospital beds achieved by NHS England but has warned there is still much more to do to ensure that the health system moves out of crisis.

Today (Thursday 25 January 2024) NHSE has stated it has reached its target of increasing core bed capacity by 5,000 – a target which was included in its Urgent and Emergency Care Recovery Plan published last January.

There has been some confusion about when the start date for the measuring the additional beds was, and at times a lack of clarity around how beds are counted.

However, the most important figure is the number of beds available right now and the number of patients actually needing them.

The College has long argued, as part of its Resuscitate Emergency Care campaign, that an increase in hospital bed capacity is one of the key interventions needed to reduce the risks being faced by patients requiring emergency care.

RCEM has previously called for increases of up to 13,000 beds in England alone.

The beds data forms part of the latest Urgent and Emergency Care Situation Report which also shows that the current total is well short of that required, given the accompanying occupancy figures.

The report shows during the week 15-21 January 2024:

The beds data is part of the winter Urgent and Emergency Care Situation Reports (Sitreps) which also show:

  • There were 101,525 beds at major hospitals, 1,738 more the comparable week in last year.
  • The average bed occupancy stood at 94.5%, which is 0.6 percentage points higher than the previous year. This is also 1% higher than the previous week.
  • Based on this week’s available beds, an additional 11,398 would have been required to bring bed occupancy down to 85%.
  • The number of people who remained in hospital despite being medically fit to be discharged was with an average of 14,436 remaining in hospital each day – the largest number this winter, and higher than any week last winter.

Responding, Dr Ian Higginson, Vice President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “The additional beds are of course welcome as is any measure which assists the flow of patients from A&Es. Our patients are spending too long in ambulances, and in corridors. You just need to go down to your local ED today to see what is happening.

“The additional beds are already filled, and the increase is nowhere near what is needed to ensure a safe and a properly functioning system.

“We still need to see improvements in provision of alternatives to admission, and in social and community-based care so that patients can leave hospital when they are fit to do so.

“It is vital that there is no move to reduce the bed numbers in future and that NHSE is able to continue to increase bed capacity, along with the staff and resources to support patient care in those beds. Only then will we start to see the improvements our members so desperately need and want, and that our patients deserve.”

The latest data also showed that:

  • Long-stay patients remain relatively unchanged, with an average of 48,558 patients staying in acute care for seven days or more.
  • G&A beds occupied by flu patients rose compared to the previous week but the number is lower than compared to the same week last year.
  • Ambulance offload time increased significantly, with an average of 4,102 hours lost each day due to handover delays – more than 73% higher compared to last week.

Graphs showing the year on year comparisons can be viewed here and the full analysis of the data is available on the RCEM website.

*An NHS Trust is an organisation of healthcare providers providing hospital services, community services and other types or aspects of patient care. One Trust may oversee several hospitals.

* A ‘Type 1 Acute Trust’ is a trust which has a ‘major’ or type 1 A&E department. A major (Type 1) A&E department is a consultant led 24-hour service with full resuscitation facilities and designated accommodation for the reception of A&E patients. This is the type of A&E an ambulance would take you to in an emergency.

*A ‘Type 1 bed’ is a bed available at an Acute Trust with a Type 1 A&E department, these are also known as General and Acute beds or G&A beds.

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