• General and acute bed occupancy hits 92.6 per cent over winter
  • Overall bed occupancy also worst ever hitting 90 per cent
  • Royal College of Surgeons says figures “very worrying”

Overnight bed occupancy rates in NHS hospitals deteriorated to their worst ever level since data collections began in 2010-11, hitting 92.6 per cent between January and March this year, according to official data published today.

The NHS England data showed general and acute bed occupancy level was 1.2 per cent higher than the fourth quarter the previous year, while overall bed occupancy also hit a new worst point of 90 per cent – up from 89 per cent for the same period in 2016-17.

NHSE has an overall bed capacity target of 92 per cent but the Royal College of Surgeons said patient safety is compromised when capacity goes over 85 per cent.

Senior clinicians say the overnight numbers also underestimate the capacity squeeze because the count is done at midnight, which is not the busiest time in a hospital.

Confirmation hospital bed capacity is at its most stretched level since 2010 follows HSJ revealing last month that NHS bosses are forecasting the service is at least 4,000 beds short for next winter.

RCS vice president Ian Eardley said: “These figures are very worrying but they will come as no surprise to frontline staff who struggled to provide care for their patients because of increasing demands and a shortage of hospital beds this winter.

“We know that if hospitals routinely exceed bed occupancy rates of over 85 per cent, it can lead to increased infection rates for patients and make it more difficult for hospitals to contain flu outbreaks or vomiting bugs.”

He also said a recent European Commission report had found the UK had the third lowest number of hospital beds in the EU at 2.6 per 1,000 people in 2015, compared to the EU average of 5.1.

A total of 25,475 operations were cancelled at the last minute during the same three month period – the highest number of last minute cancelled operations since quarterly records began in 1994.

The historical data on bed occupancy sets out the creeping capacity squeeze faced by the NHS since austerity policies began in 2010-11 (see graph).

Bed Occ historical