Extra 4,000 beds needed to prevent ‘corridor care’
Author: Jo Carlowe
Between 4,000 and 6,000 staffed beds are needed to keep emergency departments at safe levels.
The warning comes from analysis of NHS figures by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine.
President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Katherine Henderson, said: “Our number one priority is to put an end to ‘corridor care’ this winter. To do this we will need at least 4,000 extra staffed beds.
“Emergency Departments aim to have most patients treated and back home on the same day. But nearly a third of all patients who go to major A&Es needed to be admitted to a bed.
“A lack of beds means that many patients have to wait long times in undignified conditions – often on a trolley in a corridor. Last year nearly a third of a million people waited for over 12 hours.
“No patient should have to experience this for even a couple of hours, let alone for over half a day as some do.”
She added: “But since Quarter 1 of 2010/11 we have lost over 15,000 beds from the system. Cuts to the bed base must be reversed otherwise we will end up seeing more patients stranded for hours on trolleys in crowded corridors.
“Bed occupancy during winter last year was an average of 93.5% - far higher than the recommended safe level of 85%. This was despite a mild winter, with the lowest number of bed closures due to norovirus in years.
“This summer has been the worst ever in terms of the number of patients waiting – from the decision to admit them, and not time of arrival – over 12 hours for a bed.
“This is a difficult position to be going into winter in.”
She warned: “Without more beds, with appropriate nursing staffing, we fear we may be in for another record-breaking winter.
“Performance against the four-hour standard at large A&Es was just 77% last month and declining performance is linked to declining bed numbers.
“This is bad for patients and demoralising for hardworking staff.
“We saw good work last year to free up beds as quickly as possible, and an increasing focus on Same Day Emergency Care is very welcome, but these initiatives need to be in place alongside adequate bed numbers.
“The head of the NHS has also said we need more beds this winter. For the sake of our patients we must find a way to make it happen.”
Responding to the RCEM’s survey, the British Medical Association (BMA) consultants committee deputy chair and emergency medicine lead Dr Simon Walsh, said: “This is extremely concerning for patients who may face the daunting prospect of being treated in a corridor this winter, and for the staff who will be working under extreme pressure to treat them in this inappropriate environment.
“Only last year, the BMA warned that thousands of extra beds were needed for winter and - one year on - the same urgent calls are being repeated; the government cannot afford to ignore these warnings anymore.
“The NHS is already on the back foot after experiencing its worst summer on record and if we are to avoid another, possibly even worse winter of chaos, the government must deliver urgent investment to ensure these much-needed beds and resources reach the frontline.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Work to prepare for winter is well under way. We have invested £240 million in adult social care to ease pressures this winter by getting patients home quicker and freeing up hospital beds across England, on top of an extra £1 billion capital funding this year to better equip our hospitals and maintain buildings in the face of rising demand.
“We have also backed the NHS with an extra £33.9 billion a year by 2023-24 to support the Long Term Plan and to make our health service fit for the future.”