NHS performance shows we need a new approach to winter pressures

07 March 2017


The number of temporary beds opened to cope with demand on A&E units in the busiest part of this winter was equivalent to eight additional hospitals, new analysis by NHS Providers has shown.

The assessment of the peak winter months (December 2016 – February 2017) also shows that that on average hospital trusts admitted at least 80 emergency patients per day. Bed occupancy rates peaked at 96% and remained well above the recommended safe level of 85%.  

Winter pressures have contributed to the worst performance figures on record against the key A&E target to treat admit or discharge 95% of patients within four hours. Although trusts are working flat out to cope with demand they are now operating at capacity levels beyond those which other international health systems would regard as acceptable. Not only is this distressing and potentially dangerous for patients, it is also demoralising for NHS staff. 

Chris Hopson, chief executive for NHS Providers said:

“This has been the busiest winter ever for the NHS. The story of the health service’s response to those pressures has emerged in instalments, week by week.

These figures show a system running hot, and – in particular times and places – overwhelmed by the demands placed on it.


“Now for the first time we have a picture of performance through the depths of winter. Thanks to the heroic  efforts of front line staff the NHS has coped remarkably well in the face of a relentless rise in demand.

“But be in no doubt, these figures show a system running hot, and – in particular times and places – overwhelmed by the demands placed on it, risking patient safety. The situation is unsustainable, and we must plan now to ensure we don’t put staff and patients under such intolerable pressure next year.”

NHS Providers has called for a formal review of how the NHS has managed winter pressures. The review would be led by NHS England and NHS Improvement with input from NHS trusts which have borne the brunt of rising demand. The wide ranging review should look at the ring-fencing of winter funding and the impact of cancelling non-urgent operations. It also must explore how access to GPs and social care better supports the NHS during its busiest period.


Read our interactive briefing outlining our analysis for winter 16/17.  

Read our blog by Deborah Gulliver, senior research analyst, highlighting our winter period analysis and our call for a formal review of winter pressures.