NHS week: Nine in 10 hospitals 'overcrowded' this winter

NHS week: Nine in 10 hospitals 'overcrowded' this winter

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The number of patients on hospital wards in England has been at unsafe levels at nine in 10 NHS trusts this winter, BBC analysis shows.

Hospitals are not meant to have over 85% of beds occupied to minimise the risk of infections and delays in getting treatment.

But the analysis showed 137 out of 152 hospital trusts have been above that level since the start of December.

NHS bosses said hospitals had major problems discharging frail patients.

They said a lack of care in the community meant they were having to keep patients on wards.

  • 85% is the safe level for bed occupancy in hospitals

  • 137 out of 152 hospital trusts have been above this level

  • 20 more hospitals needed to bring NHS to safe levels

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One experienced hospital boss described some of the weeks this winter as the “worst” he had seen in his career.

Meanwhile, patients have been contacting the BBC to report the chaos they have experienced in overcrowded hospitals.

This includes long waits on trolleys for a bed to become free, queues of patients blocking A&E departments, overworked staff on wards and operations being cancelled at the last minute.

‘Mum’s undignified death’

Richard Taylor, 55, from Liverpool, says he was left devastated after watching the “undignified” death of his mum Sheila in January.

She had cancer, but her local cancer centre was full and so was unable to give her end-of-life care.

She was taken to Aintree Hospital but spent 13 hours on a trolley waiting for a bed before being admitted. A week later she died at the age of 78.

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Richard Taylor

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Richard, 55, and his mum Sheila on holiday before she died

“The nursing staff were fantastic, but there is only so much they can do,” Mr Taylor said.

“It was awful watching someone die in this extremely undignified way. If she was an animal, they would have put her down – she was starving and dehydrated.

“The NHS is a great thing, but it is under the hammer.”


NHS Health Check

A week of coverage by BBC News examining the state of the NHS across the UK as it comes under intense pressure during its busiest time of the year.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, said the bed shortages were “extremely worrying”.

“Above 85% and the risks start rising and once you get into the 90% it is significant. You don’t get this in other countries and it just shows the pressure hospitals are under,” he added.

The analysis, which looked at week day occupancy levels from 1 December to 22 January, showed that over 60 hospital trusts had rates of above 95%.

One of those was Basildon and Thurrock. Its interim managing director, Tom Abell, said it had been an “exceptionally busy” winter.

He said the bed shortage was also to do with the numbers coming into hospital as well as the problems discharging patients.

“Previously it would be unusual to see more than 350 people in our A&E in one day but this is now the norm. We’ve had several days where more than 450 people were treated.”

Andrew Foster, who runs three hospitals for the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust, said the start to the year has been “the worst I’ve known”.

“It started from Boxing Day onwards,” he said. “Cubicles in A&E were full, we had ambulance staff queuing in the corridors and we could not get patients out of hospital. The whole system backed up.”


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A spokesman for NHS England acknowledged the situation was impacting on the way hospitals were performing.

He said “the single most helpful change” would be to tackle the problem of delayed discharges, which is caused by a lack of available services in the community to take care of frail patients when their medical care had finished.

Without that support being provided – either from council care teams or district nursing – these patients cannot be discharged.

None of the other UK nations could provide the BBC with bed occupancy data this winter.

Meanwhile, the government in England has announced a crackdown on patients from abroad using the NHS.

Under new rules which will be put in place from April, hospitals will be expected to check upfront whether an individual is eligible for free non-urgent care by asking for ID.

It comes as a poll by Ipsos MORI for the BBC of 1,033 adults across the UK has suggested three-quarters want to see charges increased for people coming from abroad as a way of raising more money for the NHS.

That compared to 40% who wanted to see income tax increased and 37% who backed some charging for services.

England’s Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We have no problem with overseas visitors using our NHS – as long as they make a fair contribution, just as the British taxpayers does.”

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Source: BBC – UK News

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