Shock new figures reveal hospitals with NO beds spare

Almost every hospital in England has dangerously few free beds, doctors warned last night, with many so full in the run-up to Christmas the sight of patients on trolleys in draughty corridors has become routine.

Vital, time-critical operations are also being delayed for long periods due to the chronic beds shortage gripping the NHS, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Our exclusive analysis of official figures shows that:

  • Some hospitals have barely had a single free bed since mid-November, recording night after night of being ‘100 per cent’ full.
  • On December 11 – the busiest night to date – 18 major hospitals in 12 NHS trusts across England did not have a single spare bed.

CRITICAL: Overcrowding is even worse than last year’s high levels as revealed in shock new figures

Average bed occupancy for the winter so far currently stands at 93.8 per cent, compared to 92.1 per cent at the same stage last year – a winter which was considered exceptionally busy.

By comparison, doctors say hospitals should not routinely be more than 85 per cent full, as the risk of dangerous infections and delays increases above that level.

Only seven NHS hospital trusts out of 153 have had average bed occupancy below 85 per cent this December – down from 17 at the same time last year.

Last night, Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: ‘Last winter we said, “This is the worst in 15 years.” But I think this winter it’s even worse.’

He said the lack of beds meant the practice of ‘boarding’ patients on trolleys was now common.

He explained: ‘A ward might have 20 patients in 20 beds but it might be expected to take an extra two or three patients on trolleys placed in the middle of the ward or outside in the corridor.’

There, the patient would wait for a bed. ‘This concept of “boarding” has become the only way of allowing emergency departments to function,’ Dr Hassan said.

It was not uncommon for an A&E to have 20 to 40 patients waiting for a ward bed, he claimed, adding: ‘In some cases, I’ve heard of 50 patients in an emergency department waiting for a bed. We have to try to manage them as ward patients as best we can, in cold, draughty corridors, while dealing with new emergency patients.’

Meanwhile, essential operations are being put back. In Essex, a man has had surgery to repair a major blood vessel delayed. He has an abdominal aortic aneurysm where an artery could burst at any time – with potentially fatal consequences. He was due to have the operation at Basildon Hospital on December 5 but it was delayed to January 17.

His wife complained: ‘He is living on a time bomb. I cannot believe that a major operation is going to take another six weeks. It’s unbelievable and disgraceful.’

The hospital said the operation had to be cancelled as there was no high-dependency bed free after the operation and that January 17 was ‘the first available date’.

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the situation was likely to worsen if flu and norovirus took hold.

An NHS England spokesman said: ‘At this time of year, hospitals are extremely busy but thanks to hard-working NHS staff and robust plans in place to cope with winter pressures, they are generally coping.

‘The latest weekly figures show hospitals reporting bed occupancy levels of 90.9 per cent – down from 95.0 per cent the previous week.’

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘Bed occupancy rates above 85 per cent pose a substantial risk to patient safety and the downturn compared with last year should be a cause for serious concern.’