Hospitals overcrowded as bed occupancy levels rise above ‘safe’ limit

Hospitals have had too many patients this winter, leading to nine out of ten hospitals becoming so overcrowded that they are putting patients at risk.

Figures come from NHS England, showing that 137 out of 152 hospital trusts have exceeded the 85 per cent safe level.

To minimise the risk of infections and delays in getting treatment, hospitals are meant to have no more than 85% of beds occupied.

The 85 per cent safe occupancy level was set by a study in the British Medical Journal in 1999, which found there was a ‘discernible’ risk to patients where is was exceeded.

Tom Abell, Managing Director at Basildon and Thurrock, said that 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,” he said.

Hospitals are struggling to discharge older patients due to cuts in council social care budgets, and patients can only leave if there is adequate care at home, or they have a place in a care home.

Overcrowded hospitals have resorted to appointing ‘corridor nurses’ in A&E to treat patients and ensure they do not deteriorate while waiting for a bed.

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: “The strain of overcrowded A&E units and a creaking social care system means the Government is failing millions of sick and vulnerable people.”

Will this be the wakeup call needed for change as winter comes to an end, or will a continued lack of care in the community mean staff having to keep patients waiting on wards?

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