Winter bed occupancy rates threaten patient safety

06 February 2017

The BBC has calculated that nine out of 10 hospitals have been short of beds this winter.

Drawing on data from NHS England, from the start of December 2016 to 22 January this year, it has found that 137 out of 152 hospital trusts had average bed occupancy rates above the recommended 85% level.

66 hospital trusts had an average occupancy rate above 95%.

Responding to the figures, the chief executive of NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, said:

“These figures are worrying. There is strong evidence that bed occupancy rates above 85% can compromise patient safety, increasing the risk of infection. They also mean that hospitals have less capacity to respond to unexpected demands such flu outbreaks. Working in this way is inefficient. It often forces staff to delay operations because of a lack of suitable beds. This can be very distressing for patients and carers.

High bed occupancy rates have become routine in the NHS. But that does not mean they are acceptable. They are an important indicator of unsustainable pressures on the whole health service.


“High bed occupancy rates have become routine in the NHS. But that does not mean they are acceptable. They are an important indicator of unsustainable pressures on the whole health service, which have reached unprecedented levels in recent weeks. This impacts on the quality of care for patients, but is also demoralising for frontline staff who have responded heroically to the surge in demand. That is why we have called for an urgent review of winter pressures, to establish what needs to be done to ensure safe and timely services for patients year-round.”

The BBC has also published a poll carried out by Ipsos Mori exploring the state of public opinion on the NHS.

Just over half of respondents (52%) said it was getting harder for the NHS to deliver the care and services it provides.

53% said an increase in national insurance would be acceptable to maintain the current level of care and services provided by the NHS.

A clear majority (59%) thought a shortage of staff/equipment or a lack of funding was putting pressure on the NHS to deliver the service it provides.

Responding to the poll, Chris Hopson said:

“It is heartening to see continued public support for the NHS, and wide recognition of the pressures it is facing. The findings indicate a majority of people can see it is getting harder to deliver the care the NHS provides, but most would be prepared to pay more tax in order to protect services. More than half of those polled recognised the significance of staff shortages and funding.

It is heartening to see continued public support for the NHS, and wide recognition of the pressures it is facing.


“But the findings also suggest arguments about the impact of an ageing population have not cut through. This underlines the need for a proper public debate about how we protect services at a time of growing demographic pressures. These will have huge implications for the NHS and other public services in the coming years. We can not afford to duck this debate. These poll findings indicate strongly that the public is ready to respond.”

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