Royal Bournemouth Hospital and Christchurch Hospitals Foundation Trust has justified its policy of putting patients in wards which are already full, after Nursing Times received a complaint that the practice was unsafe.

Nurses at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital said additional beds were being put in bays and they were concerned it was increasingly affecting the safety and comfort of patients.

The nurse said it was also increasing workload – a common complaint of others responding to a Nursing Times survey, which shows that Royal Bournemouth is far from alone in treating extra patients on wards.

The extra beds are used about once a month, more during winter, and on about eight wards of different types.

The areas used in the middle of wards do not have immediate water and suction access. The trust said it had recently installed curtains, though in the past screens were used.

Joe Smyth, the trust’s deputy director of operations, said: “It happens in unusual circumstances. If we get a surge of admissions and the hospital is already full we are faced with a choice of escalating patients into the ward or closing the front door.”

Mr Smyth said it was usually in the morning while waiting for discharges – usually a few hours. Sometimes they are used through the night, for up to about 10 hours.

“You have to balance risk, but we have qualified doctors and nurses making the decisions. We are reducing it to an absolute minimum.

“If nurses feel it is a problem they should raise it but I have to say we have fully risk assessed the beds.”

National Patient Safety Agency director of patient safety Suzette Woodward said in some cases using non clinical areas was acceptable. She said risk assessments should be carried out and, if there were problems, the trust should review bed and patient management.