Hospitals are already as much as 99% full as the NHS braces itself for the winter – far over the 85% limit experts say must be maintained to protect patient safety.
Hospital trust chief executives have disclosed that they are running at close to 100% bed occupancy even before the expected bad weather and major flu outbreak this winter have arrived.
NHS bosses speaking on condition of anonymity also voiced fears that patients could be harmed and staff left unable to cope with the seasonal surge in demand for care because their hospitals could run out of spare beds.
“We’re lucky to get below 99% bed occupancy rates,” said the chief executive of one trust. “We plan for winter all year round, but there’s an underlying lack of beds and resources. There is a daily battle [over where to care for patients who need to be admitted] due to the lack of beds.”
The chief executive admitted to being worried about a chronic lack of beds risking patients’ health. “In terms of extreme pressure, we do worry. We worry about getting people into beds quickly enough.”
Another trust chief executive said: “We’re at 98% capacity and 11% of our beds are occupied by delayed transfer of care patients [who are medically fit to be discharged but cannot leave as social care support is not available]. Every day we have 80 to 90 patients in beds who should be somewhere else.”
The combination of bed shortages and what the NHS calls Dtocs is a real concern owing to its potential impact on the quality of care, the boss added.
Health experts internationally agree that if more than 85% of beds are occupied there is a greater risk of patients acquiring infections such as the Clostridium difficile and MRSA superbugs, ending up on wards not suitable for their illness and receiving inadequate care.