RCN: ‘Not a single unoccupied bed!’

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‘ON EVERY day except Friday last week, several hospitals across England didn’t have a single unoccupied bed,’ Donna Kinnair, Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice at the Royal College of Nursing said yesterday.

She was responding to alarming new figures published by NHS England yesterday, which show that far from the NHS crisis beginning to ease it is actually getting worse by the day.

Last week saw A&E departments send emergency patients elsewhere because they were too busy on 43 occasions, the highest number for a single week this winter. The figure was more than double the previous week and higher than the comparable week last year.

‘When this happens,’ Kinnair added, ‘it becomes extremely difficult for A&E departments to get new patients admitted as emergencies, which leads to huge backlogs in A&E. That in turn accounts for the significant increase in the number of times last week that hospitals couldn’t accept any new patients by ambulance.

‘Many Trusts are desperate to open more beds, but simply don’t have enough nurses to staff them. Unless hospitals can free up more beds, the current crisis is going to continue well beyond the winter.’

Ambulance handover delays were extremely high last week, with 11,061, around one in nine, waiting more than the target 30 minutes in the week to Sunday 28th January. Of these, 2,143 ambulances waited more than an hour to pass on their patients and get back on the road.

And bed occupancy rose, up to 95.1%, well ahead of both the recommended safe level of 85% and the predicted level of 92%. Meanwhile, a new report has shown that the NHS reliance on agency healthcare workers directly affects the wellbeing of patients and the quality of care they receive.

The report by Picker and The King’s Fund has uncovered striking associations between NHS staff and patients’ experiences in hospitals and NHS trusts’ reliance on agency healthcare workers. The report reveals that there are relationships between staff wellbeing, patient experiences of their care, and the proportion of money NHS trusts spend on agency workers.

In trusts where agency spend was higher as a proportion of overall pay, both staff wellbeing and patient experience were typically lower. The NHS provider sector spent £2.9 billion on agency and contract staff in 2016/17.