NHS will struggle to cope this winter, new analysis finds

Just 3.6 per cent of patients took up over a third of all bed capacity in acute hospitals in England last year, new analysis by the Nuffield Trust of pressures on the NHS last winter has found. The analysis comes on the day that NHS England publishes its latest monthly figures on how the Health Service is performing against a number of targets.

The patients in this group were likely to have been frail or elderly people who the system was not ready to return to their own homes or to nursing or residential homes, despite their medical treatment being finished.

This new figure for bed occupancy helps to explain why the Health Service still suffered a winter ‘crisis’ last year, the authors say, despite receiving record extra funding from NHS England of almost £700m specifically to deal with pressures caused by winter.

The fact that no extra funding for winter is being allocated this year means the position will be even worse in the coming months, they argue. The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced in November 2014 that the money was being awarded to the NHS to ‘make sure it is better prepared [for winter] than ever before’ – yet by January this year, a string of Trusts in England had declared major incidents or ‘black alerts’, whereby hospitals were closed to all new admissions, while performance against the four hour A&E standard was the worst in a decade.

The way in which this small group of patients was treated meant that bed occupancy rates in many hospitals were running far higher last winter than the 85 per cent generally recommended by experts as the maximum that should be reached in the NHS – which in turn held up the admission of patients from emergency departments, thereby preventing those arriving at the ‘front door’ of A&E from being seen quickly enough and causing the four hour A&E standard to be breached repeatedly. See Nuffield Trust report for further details: The A&E Winter Crisis: lessons from last year