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Overnight hospital bed occupancy hits record high

25 May 2017

New data published today for January-March 2017 shows overnight hospital bed occupancy has hit a record high. NHS England’s data shows that 91.4% of overnight hospital (‘general and acute’) beds, where surgical patients who need to stay in hospital are cared for, were full during the period. When records began in 2000-01 overnight hospital (‘general and acute’) bed occupancy averaged at 84.7%. Last year’s equivalent figure was 91.2%.

Health experts advise that occupancy levels should ideally be under 85% although this has become increasingly difficult to attain. Anything over this level is regarded as riskier for patients as it can lead to bed shortages, periodic bed crises, and a rise in healthcare-acquired infections such as MRSA.

A recent House of Commons Library report also pointed out that throughout January and February 2017 there were regularly more than 20 Trusts at over 99% overnight bed occupancy.

Responding to the news Miss Clare Marx, President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“These numbers are exceptionally worrying and suggest that reductions in hospital bed numbers over recent years may have gone too far. We are running short of space in hospitals.

“Medical advances have meant more surgery can take place without an overnight hospital stay and this has allowed the NHS to reduce bed numbers. However, at the same time there has been an increase in the number of frail older patients finding themselves in hospital because of a lack of social care or community alternatives.

“Health experts suggest occupancy levels should ideally be under 85%, so that fact that there were regularly more than 20 trusts at over 99% bed occupancy in January and February, is greatly concerning. Without a doubt, this will also have led to many planned operations being cancelled.

“Today’s numbers help to explain why more operations are being cancelled and why waiting times are rising. It also demonstrates why sometimes surgeons are effectively left kicking their heels; a lack of beds can mean they can’t do operations they had planned.

“The next Government should set out a plan to protect beds for planned surgery, especially during next year’s busy winter period. NHS England recently announced a new patient care test for hospital bed closures and we hope this will ensure that bad decisions are avoided and patients continue to receive high quality and timely care in the most appropriate place.”

Notes to editors

The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

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