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The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that the NHS needs 10,000 additional hospital beds this winter in order to maintain patient safety.
The association says that the total number of emergency hospital admissions will rise to more than 1.6 million between January and March next year, from 1.5 million this year. Their analysis says that the approaching winter period could yet be the worst on record for emergency departments, with a predicted increase in patients expected, as well as longer waiting times.
The number of A&E patients waiting over four hours at major emergency departments could increase to over one million, while the BMA also claims that the number of patients waiting for beds for four hours of more will rise from 226,000 to 238,000. A worst-case scenario could see the figure rise to more than 300,000.
Looking at deterioration of care, the BMA says that if bed occupancy is above 92 cent then the deterioration in emergency care standards begins to accelerate. With previous guidance having suggested occupancy should not exceed 85 per cent, figures show that bed occupancy last winter peaked at 95 per cent.
To drop the occupancy rate down to a recommended safe level, the NHS in England will need to use 5,000 ‘escalation beds’ opened last winter, and will need an additional 5,000 general and acute beds.
Rob Harwood, chairman of the body's consultant committee, said: "The NHS is facing an all-year crisis that is leaving patients in an intolerable situation. This winter could be the worst on record for frontline emergency care departments, with a BMA analysis suggesting hundreds of thousands of patients will be left either waiting to see a doctor for an assessment or stranded in cramped corridors on a hospital trolley waiting for a hospital bed to become available.
"A key part of this problem is the lack of available beds within the NHS system. Last winter saw incredibly high levels of bed occupancy, well above recommended limits, and despite thousands of escalation beds being put into action temporarily. At this level patients will struggle to get the attention and care they need."
Gareth Fitzgerald and Amanda Grantham, healthcare experts at PA Consulting, discusses how UK hospitals can improve patient flow