NHS bed occupancy figures queried
A health minister has said he does not recognise figures on bed occupancy used in an influential report to show NHS hospitals are dangerously full.
Patient safety is being risked because hospitals are “full to bursting”, with many regularly breaching the 85 per cent limit put in place to protect patients, according to the Dr Foster hospital guide.
The report said that in 2011-2012 occupancy was running at 88 per cent in midweek, while averaging 90 per cent for 11 of the 12 months, excluding quiet periods such as Christmas.
But Earl Howe has said that the Department of Health is “struggling to reconcile” its figures with those used in the report.
At question time in the House of Lords, Labour’s Lord Turnberg, a former chairman of the Royal College of Physicians, said the report showed clearly “the stress our hospitals are operating under”.
He added: “With bed occupancy of 95 per cent to 100 per cent for much of the year for many of the hospitals, there are too often no beds available, staff are rushed off their feet, patients are not cared for properly, infection rates rise and mistakes occur.”
But Lord Howe said data from his department showed “the average bed occupancy rate for all beds open overnight had remained stable between 84 per cent and 87 per cent since 2000” and that showed hospitals were “making efficient use of beds”.
He added: “We are struggling to reconcile the Dr Foster bed occupancy figures with those that we have. Dr Foster has stated that bed occupancy is at a dangerous level - over 90 per cent for 48 weeks of the year.
“We’re looking closely at their analysis and methodology, but we can’t agree with their conclusions at the moment.”
He said the Department of Health monitored the position on a daily basis during winter.
Labour shadow health minister Lord Hunt of Kings Heath hit out at NHS underspends, which Lord Howe said amounted to 1.7 per cent in 2010-11 and 1.3 per cent in 2011-12.
Lord Hunt said the underspend over two years was £3bn and he added: “This government promised to protect the NHS and cut the deficit. In fact, it is cutting the NHS and the deficit is rising.
“How can the government justify handing back so much money to the Treasury when large parts of the NHS are under great financial pressure at the moment?”
Lord Howe said the deficit was not rising and the government was putting an extra £12.5bn into the NHS over the course of the spending review, which runs from 2010 to 2015.
He said expenditure in the NHS stemmed from around 400 organisations whose accounts had to be consolidated and in total not exceed the spending limit.
“Given those circumstances, it is sensible to plan for a modest underspend to mitigate against unexpected cost pressures,” he said.
And he added later: “NHS underspends are not lost to the NHS, they can be carried forward.”