Hospitals already at full capacity as winter sets in, RCN warns

Figures reveal a hospital bed shortage even before the onset of severe winter temperatures, the RCN says

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Hospitals may already be operating at over 100% capacity with patients waiting on trolleys and chairs due to a lack of beds, the RCN warns.

The college says worrying new performance figures from NHS England reveal a bed shortage even before the onset of severe winter temperatures.

Of 134 trusts that submitted data, 13 recorded at least one day of 100% bed capacity between 3-9 December.

Call for answers

The RCN joined think tanks and politicians in calling for answers to the pressures on the service in the government’s forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS.

RCN acting general secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: ‘The cold weather is only just beginning to bite, yet it seems NHS performance dipped to a worrying level for mild temperatures last week.

‘One in 10 hospital trusts in England hit capacity on at least one day in just the first week of December, and had not a single bed to spare – two were at 100% capacity every day.

Patients on trolleys

‘And because the reporting system doesn’t allow trusts to record more than 100% bed occupancy, these figures often mask large numbers of patients on trolleys and chairs waiting for a bed to become available.’

Professor Kinnair said the NHS was in desperate need of more beds but could not open them without more nurses to staff them.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called the figures hugely concerning and said ministers must start prioritising patients’ interests by outlining proposals for the NHS this winter.

Credible solution

‘It would be totally unforgivable if patients suffered another winter crisis like the ones we’ve seen in recent years,’ Mr Ashworth said.

‘Patients will expect the imminent NHS plan to have a clear and credible solution to chronic understaffing and a road map for restoring performance that has deteriorated so unacceptably in recent years.’

King’s Fund think tank chief analyst Siva Anandaciva said the figures showed ‘little slack in a system which is operating consistently in the red zone’.

He said: ‘The upcoming NHS long-term plan must set out how the NHS will deliver the access to care that patients and the public need.’

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