Nearly all hospitals are ‘dangerously’ busy, experts warn

Nearly all hospitals are ‘dangerously’ busy with the NHS absorbing ‘unsustainable’ levels of pressure as Christmas approaches, experts warn

  • The Labour Party and Royal College of Nursing today warned of ‘massive strain’
  • All but three hospitals had more than 85 per cent of their beds full last week
  • There were improvements on the previous week but pressure remains high 

The NHS is under crippling pressure heading into the Christmas period with nearly all hospitals ‘dangerously’ busy, experts have warned.

Despite improved performance from the first week of winter, there is still ‘massive stress’ on the NHS and the situation is expected to worsen.

The Labour Party, Royal College of Nursing and the Society for Acute Medicine all voiced concerns after seeing NHS statistics for last week.

All but three English hospitals have more beds full than is safe, and 20,032 people waited in an ambulance for more than half an hour in the past fortnight.

The levels of pressure on the NHS are ‘not sustainable’ and hospitals across England are operating at unsafe levels, experts have warned today

Overall, 93.4 per cent of hospital beds were full last week – the target to allow hospitals to operate safely is 85 per cent.

But just three hospitals managed to keep 15 per cent of their inpatient beds free overnight for the entire week.

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘Today’s figures suggest an NHS struggling as we head into a period of huge pressure.

‘Ambulance diverts are higher than last year and nearly all hospitals are operating at levels which are unsafe and dangerous.

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‘Years of austerity, cuts and chronic staff shortages are directly impacting on the frontline of the NHS and sadly patients are paying the price.

‘This is simply unacceptable.

‘Yet rather than leadership and grip from the Secretary of State we have a Government in civil war, the NHS long term plan has been shelved and the ongoing Brexit shambles overwhelms ministers. Patients deserve better.’

A total of 30 ambulances were diverted away from the hospital they were heading to last week, up from 25 the week before.

Around one in 10 patients are still having to wait 30 minutes or more after arriving at a hospital by ambulance, although this figure improved on the previous week.

Fewer patients needed ambulances last week, with 96,284 patients after than 97,472 the week before.

Bed occupancy, although still at an ‘unsafe’ level, was also down last week from 94.1 per cent.

‘While Ministers have spent the past week squabbling over Brexit, hard-working NHS staff have been trying to care for patients in wards that are almost full to bursting,’ said the Royal College of Nursing’s Professor Dame Donna Kinnair.

‘This is not sustainable. With the system working at its limit, a cold snap, flu outbreak or increase in cases of norovirus is all it takes to tip the balance.


Thousands more patients endured waits of at least four hours in A&E this November than during the same month last winter, data showed.

NHS figures revealed 54,631 patients weren’t seen within the target time – and 258 of them experienced waits of at least 12 hours.

In comparison, 48,730 patients were left languishing about in busy A&E departments during November 2017 – nearly 11 per cent fewer.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was forced to admit last year’s was the ‘worst winter ever’ amid a severe outbreak of flu and cold weather.

The number of patients left waiting four hours to be seen in A&E climbed throughout the summer of 2017, before spiking between December and March last year.

And the same trend appears to exist for this winter, with the total having risen by around 5,000 people for every month since August.

The NHS figures also showed 87.6 per cent of patients who visited A&E across England in November were seen within four hours – the lowest monthly total since March this year. 

‘This winter will test our health and social care services and nurses will do the best they can, but there is a limit to what they can do without the support of policymakers.

‘Unless the Government and NHS England take urgent steps to address the 42,000 nurse vacancies in England, our health and social care system will continue to struggle and patients will continue to pay the price.’

Monthly data for November last week showed cracks were showing in A&E departments, which bear the brunt of patients flooding in in the colder months.

A total of 54,631 people were left waiting for more than four hours for a bed in after doctors decided to keep them in hospital.

This was 12 per cent higher than in the same month last year.

And among those patients, 258 people waited at least 12 hours to be treated, more than double the number for November 2017.

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine said: ‘As we approach the holiday season the pressure on the frontline of healthcare is ever-increasing. 

‘We can see in today’s data there is massive stress on the system with nine hospitals showing more than 99 per cent full even on their best days. 

‘Additionally, these figures don’t show the whole picture as they are massaged by including specialist centres, such as children only, which always run at 70 per cent.’

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘NHS performance in key areas has improved this week, which is a testament to the hard work of the service’s staff, in and out of hospitals, across the country. 

That includes GPs and their teams delivering evening and weekend appointments in every part of the country, doctors and nurses providing expert advice through NHS 111, and ambulance and A&E staff standing ready to deal with emergencies. 

‘Hospital bed occupancy fell compared to the week before, and was also lower than the same week a year ago. 

‘The proportion of NHS staff who have had the flu vaccination is also up on last year, which was itself a record high. 

‘But since the festive period is often a challenging time for the NHS, the public can help us help them stay well. 

‘Keeping homes warm helps and, as the British Heart Foundation have said today, it’s vital that those who are eligible and haven’t yet got their free NHS flu jab do so now.’

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