Nine out of 10 hospital beds in England were full between July and September, according to NHS statistics.
Figures revealed more than 50 hospitals had more beds occupied than the NHS’s 92 per cent safe operating limit.
The second-quarter figures were the worst in at least a decade and on par with those normally seen in the depths of winter.
Leading English surgeons told MailOnline bed closures have ‘gone too far’ and when so many beds are full operations have to be cancelled and flu spreads quickly.
One hospital – North Middlesex University Hospital in London – was 100 per cent full for the entire three months, the data showed.
The hospital denies it didn’t have any beds free and argued patients were kept on ‘flexible beds’ which aren’t officially counted.
The figures add to growing evidence that summer has given the NHS no respite from a gruelling winter as A&E waits and surgery waiting lists are also at record highs.
Five NHS hospitals were more than 99 per cent full during July, August and September, with one in London a staggering 100 per cent full – officials at the trust in North Middlesex say they were using extra beds not recorded in statistics
‘These figures show that cuts to hospital beds have gone too far,’ Professor Derek Alderson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons told MailOnline.
‘In our Manifesto for Surgery we are calling on all parties standing in the election to commit to at least 3,000 additional NHS beds.
‘When bed occupancy rates get into the 90s, patients can end up in unsuitable wards and operations are likely to be delayed or cancelled.
‘So more patients face a long wait for operations essential to getting them mobile and enjoying a good quality of life.
‘As winter approaches, further problems arise – high bed occupancy rates make it harder for hospitals to contain flu outbreaks.’
Professor Alderson said one trust is already showing the strain – Northampton General Hospital has announced it’s cancelling dozens of operations to keep beds free for overwhelming numbers of A&E patients over the winter.
NHS England’s statistics show 90 per cent of general hospital beds across England were full in July, August and September this year.
Compared to the same periods over the past decade, this is the highest figure and shows wards were busier than the previous high of 89.2 per cent in 2016-17.
The proportion of available NHS beds during July, August and September (quarter 2) has declined from 14.4 per cent to just 10 per cent, NHS data shows
SURGEONS SAY 92% BED OCCUPANCY TARGET IS TOO HIGH
The NHS’s target of limiting hospitals to having 92 per cent of their beds full is too lenient, according to surgeons and emergency doctors.
In 2017 the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine raised concerns about the 92 per cent target.
It said this should be considerably lower and set at 85 per cent.
Beds need to be kept empty to cope with surges in emergency patients, which may occur during the winter, when admissions are always higher, or during illness outbreaks such as flu, or in the event of a terror attack or major accident.
Having too many beds full means it’s slower to admit patients through A&E which in turn leads to longer waits for emergency patients.
The RCEM’s president at the time, Taj Hassan, told the Health Service Journal: ‘It is extremely concerning that one recommendation seems to revise the safe level of bed occupancy up to 92 per cent.
‘[The college] would have serious concerns about this as a metric of safety and we would be interested in understanding the evidence base behind this thesis.
‘Our strong view is that the evidence base all points to 85 per cent as being the safer [and more efficient] level that all systems should be aiming for.’
And NHS Providers, which represents hospital and ambulance workers, agreed that having a target higher than 90 per cent was a ‘real concern’.
The NHS aims to keep at least eight per cent of beds free in any given hospital at any time, to keep room for emergency patients.
While 98 out of 151 hospital trusts in England managed this (analysis excluded those with fewer than 100 beds) the remaining 53 did not.
Hospitals which failed to stay below the 92 per cent target had occupancy rates ranging from 92 to 100, the latter at the ‘North Mid’ in Enfield, north London.
Chief operating officer, Dr Andy Heeps said: ‘It’s not true to claim that North Mid “didn’t have a single bed free” for the whole of that period.
‘Like many hospitals, in addition to our permanent beds, we operate a number of beds flexibly throughout the year, to meet the healthcare needs of our local community.’
Dr Heeps said the hospital last month decided to permanently open more beds and therefore the true figure was ‘about 96 per cent’.
He added: ‘While this is still high, it is clearly not the impossible situation which 100 per cent capacity would represent.
‘However, we continue to be 100 per cent grateful for the hard work of our staff and local partners who every day go above and beyond to provide the best care for our local community.’
Other hospitals which had barely any overnight beds free over the 12-week period included the Royal United Hospital in Bath, which was 99.6 per cent full.
George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton was 99.4 per cent full, Western Sussex Hospitals were 99.2 per cent and Oxford University Hospitals were 99.1 per cent.
Among those with the most beds free were the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in London (63.4 per cent); Sheffield Children’s Hospital (68.7 per cent) and Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge (72.2 per cent).
These hospitals are particularly small, however, with fewer than 200 available beds and only caring for specific areas of medicine – orthopaedics, children and heart and lung.
An NHS spokesperson said: ‘The NHS will be opening up thousands of beds over next few months, based on the local availability of nurses and other staff.
‘Hospitals will also be working closely with community health services and local authorities’ home care and care home services to help people who are ready to go home do so.’
The bed openings add to other signs revealed this month that the NHS is under unprecedented strain.
A record high one in six patients had to wait longer than four hours to be seen in A&E in October, and there are now 4.42million people waiting for routine surgery.
Data for September showed the number of people waiting for routine surgery is at a record high for the sixth time this year, with 4,420,000 people on the list
Just 83.6 per cent of A&E patients were seen within the four hour target, meaning 320,000 people sat for longer while medics decided what to do with them.
Dr Katherine Henderson, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: ‘We have reached a new low in terms of hospital performance against emergency care standards.
‘The risk is that this is ignored, ignoring the human stories behind the numbers.
‘These figures should be a source of shame for politicians of all stripes. Patients have been let down repeatedly by a parliament that has consistently failed to grasp the scale of the problem.’