The head of the NHS has praised the hard work of staff for rolling out 5,000 additional permanent, staffed beds this winter – during a period of industrial action and significant pressure.
New figures published today show last week, hospitals across the country had an average of 99,750 core beds in place each day – up 2,000 since the start of the year (97,619 w/e 31 Dec) to align with the expected peak in Covid and flu admissions.
However, today’s data also shows rising demand due to seasonal pressures – with the number of people in hospital with flu is the highest it has been all winter. Last week, 1582 patients were in hospital with the virus, up 11% on the week before (1,416) and more than two-thirds higher than the same week in December (942).
As part of its urgent and emergency care recovery plan, the NHS committed to an additional 5,000 ‘core’ beds to increase the level of permanent, staffed, and sustainable beds over winter, as opposed to relying on escalation beds that are normally stood up during periods of extreme pressure.
The 5,000 extra beds ambition was against a baseline of 94,500, the original level of core beds planned by NHS trusts in 2022/23.
This significant boost means the NHS now has a total of 103,277 general and acute beds in place – more than 1,800 more than the same week last year. Occupancy has remained high this winter, with over 2,000 more patients in hospital each day last week compared to the same period last winter.
Today’s published data show demand remains high – in the week ending January 21, more than 19 in every 20 adult beds were occupied (95.7%).
While the number of people in hospital when medically fit to be discharged has continued to increase, with an average of 14,436 remaining in hospital each day – the largest number this winter, and higher than any week last winter.
The number of people in hospital with norovirus also remains high, with an average 438 each day last week. This has decreased on the week before (452) but is up 17% than the same time last year (374).
Separate figures show Covid still remains a concern, with an average 3,888 patients in hospital with Covid each day last week.
One year on from the UEC recovery plan the NHS has rolled out new ways of working as well as bringing in more capacity – from most trusts using Same Day Emergency Care centres and Urgent Community Response teams, the continued rollout of more than 200 Acute Respiratory Infection hubs, to meeting our aim of 10,000 virtual ward beds ahead of target.
NHS hospital teams have found new and innovative ways to roll out extra beds, with Barnsley Hospital refitting and refurbishing two wards to put in place 38 extra beds, while Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has rolled out 22 new beds, including a patient discharge facility and additional winter beds dedicated for paediatric patients.
Before Christmas, Queen’s Hospital in Romford opened a new surgical assessment unit with 10 beds, while Whipps Cross and Royal London Hospitals have carried out a refurbishment programme meaning patients across Barts Health NHS Trust are benefiting from 32 additional beds.
Liverpool University Hospitals Foundation Trust has opened an additional 58 general and acute beds across their hospital sites compared to December, helping to deal with the increased pressures.
NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said: “A year ago we launched our Urgent and emergency care recovery plan, setting out how we planned to improve patient experience by boosting capacity with thousands more beds, new ambulances, and the expansion of measures like our world-leading virtual ward programme, community response teams and care ‘traffic control centres’.
“Today’s figures show that thanks to the remarkable hard work of NHS staff, we have now rolled out an additional 5,000 extra ‘core’ beds – permanent, staffed beds – which, alongside the other measures in our plan, are helping the NHS better manage increased winter pressures, significant demand, and rising numbers of patients with seasonal viruses.
“They also reveal why the NHS needed to grow its capacity – with more than 19 in 20 adult beds occupied last week, as staff deal with increased demand, fuelled by rising numbers of flu admissions.
“We know NHS staff are working tirelessly to deliver the best possible care under real pressure. And by boosting capacity alongside other key steps in the recovery plan, we have seen improved waiting times for patients, which were better every month in 2023 than the year before. Category 2 ambulance response times were also an average of 47 minutes faster in December 2023 than in December 2022.
“But we know there is still further to go, which is why we will continue to expand these measures in the coming months.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “I want faster, simpler, fairer health care for all our patients. These 5,000 new beds will make a real difference to patient care so I am delighted that we have hit this target, and I want to thank all the NHS staff who have worked to deliver this.
“Additional staffed beds are a core component of our Urgent and emergency care recovery plan, backed by £1 billion of dedicated funding, which sets a clear vision for how we are working to cut waiting times, helping ensure everyone is able to receive the help and care they need.”
Today’s weekly winter sitrep data also shows 90,115 people were taken to hospital by ambulance last week, 16% higher than the same week last year (77,937).
Call handlers answered 367,560 calls to NHS 111, an increase of 16% on the same week last year.
Last week an average 47,468 staff were off sick each day.
The latest weekly sitrep data is available on our website here.