WINTER hospital bed shortages pose a ‘real threat’ to patient care, the Nuffield Trust warned yesterday.
On average, about 95% of English hospital beds were occupied last winter, despite 85-90% being the recommended maximum. Professor John Appleby, chief economist at the Nuffield Trust, said: ‘The NHS is going into this winter in an even worse position than it was a year ago, with record deficits, worse performance against the A&E target, far more trolley waits, record delayed discharges from hospital, and fewer people getting the help they need with social care. When you add into that mix the sort of intense pressure on beds we’ve demonstrated hospitals experienced last winter, patients’ care is bound to suffer.’
Anna Crossley, RCN Professional Lead for Acute, Emergency and Critical Care, said: ‘Winter has increasingly become a busy and difficult time for the NHS, even in years without a major illness outbreak. Unfortunately, as our population grows and ages, the pressures are now all year round, meaning that when there is a spike in serious illness needing hospital admission, there is almost no extra capacity that can be used.
‘This report is a helpful, if worrying, gauge for the realities of hospitals under pressure.
‘Patients suffer if they have to wait a long time on trolleys, or get moved around a hospital at night. Treating more patients with fewer staff can also mean that where wards are overwhelmed, they are over-reliant on agency or support staff – meaning that consistent skilled nursing care is lost.
‘There are plans in place across the NHS to prepare for winter, but the experience of previous years means we do have to question whether they are adequate given the very high rate of demand on services all year round. We know that many people remain in a hospital bed when they are medically fit for discharge, but chronic underfunding in social and community services mean people stay in hospital longer than necessary, and staff are at breaking point throughout the system.
‘None of us would want it to be our relative kept in an ambulance queue because they can’t be admitted, or moved from ward to ward in the middle of the night. A serious discussion is needed about how we ensure that the right number of beds, nurses and other resources in hospitals and the community are there when needed, so that we are not so reliant on treating sick patients in any available space.’
Meanwhile, hospital cleaners, porters and hostesses will hold a second demonstration outside Watford General Hospital gates on Wednesday 21st December from 12.00 noon until 4.00 pm in an escalating struggle over pay.
Hospital cleaners, porters and hostesses are being paid only ten pence above the national minimum wage with no overtime payments or additional pay for working Bank Holidays or weekends.
The protest will be held on Wednesday 21st December starting at 12 noon outside Watford General Hospital at the following address: Vicarage Road Watford WD18 0HB
Mick Dooley, GMB London organiser, said: ‘The current UK living wage is £8.45 and NHS rates of pay are around £9.40 per hour. Watford General Hospital porters and cleaners get £7.30, ten pence above the National Minimum Wage.’