NHS warns of ‘dangerous’ beds shortage this winter

Patients could die this winter because the NHS is alarmingly unprepared to deal with the surge of people who fall ill during the cold weather, hospital bosses warn today.

NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts in England, fears lives could be lost because patients are being forced to spend long periods waiting in ambulances outside A&E, or on trolleys.

Hospitals are so “dangerously short” of beds that they may be unable to cope with the coming winter, Chris Hopson, the organisation’s chief executive, told the Observer. They will struggle even more than last winter – when chaotic scenes led the Red Cross to call the situation “a humanitarian crisis” – because a £1bn government initiative intended to free 2,000-3,000 beds by September has failed, he added.

That scheme aimed to reduce the proportion of beds occupied by patients who are fit to be discharged but cannot leave – called “delayed transfers of care” – to 3.5% of all beds by this month. It was 5.6% of beds at the end of 2016 and still 5.2% at the end of June, NHS figures show.

“That 3.5% target is going to be missed,” Hopson said. “Therefore, hospitals this winter will still be too full of people whom we can’t discharge, even though they are medically fit to leave, because of problems with social care. Failure to do so leaves us dangerously short of capacity.

“That means that it could be even worse than last year, when there were far too many patients waiting more than 12 hours on a trolley or in the back of an ambulance to be seen. We were running much greater levels of risk to patient safety than we had had for at least a decade and we don’t want to see that level of risk again.”

Full story in The Guardian, 3 September 2017