ONE in eight NHS trusts in England did not have a single spare intensive care bed last week, NHS England figures published yesterday revealed.
18 out of 140 major trusts had 100 per cent occupancy in their ICUs on every day in the week ending January 24th, up slightly on the 15th that were full to the brim the previous week.
These included University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, one of the largest trusts in England, along with Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust and George Eliot Hospital NHS Trust, which are also in the West Midlands.
But the problem was not confined to the Midlands, as major trusts in the north and in Yorkshire – including St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Chesterfield Royal Hospital – also reported having no spare critical care capacity.
Even hospitals in the south west, which had managed to avoid the worst of the pandemic throughout 2020, were seeing their ICUs pushed to the brink, with Portsmouth Hospitals University National Health Service Trust and the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust recording 100 per cent occupancy.
Yesterday’s figures also show that ICUs are more than 70 per cent busier than they have been at any time over the past five years – with 5,446 critical care beds occupied on January 24th, the most recent day statistics are available for.
For comparison, there were 3,034 critically-ill patients at the same time last winter, and the average over the last four years stood at 3,183.
Separately, NHS England also published yesterday the workforce data exposing the staffing crisis in hospitals, prompting the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) to emphasise that the NHS is still 36,000 nurses short. Nurses have been driven out of the profession because of low pay and stress, while students have been discouraged from studying nursing after the bursary covering tuition fees was axed.
Responding to the latest NHS England workforce data, Mike Adams, RCN Director for England, said: ‘Days after the NHS England Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens, said the NHS needs 100,000 more nurses over the next ten years, these figures show how far we have to go.
‘The number of vacant nurse jobs remains stubbornly high, affecting the delivery of safe and effective patient care.
‘If the government is truly committed to building a future workforce, it must improve pay and conditions to address recruitment and retention issues in nursing.’