NHS News: Trusts grappling with winter plans

Board papers published by Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust highlight the struggle hospitals are facing juggling capacity amid an overall winter beds shortage in England this year predicted at 3,100.

Memories of the last seasonal crisis were evoked by the interim winter plan which warned that without special steps the Trust would be 208 beds short of an operational goal of 92 per cent occupancy. 

That is the “tipping point” identified by NHS Improvement at which Emergency Departments have historically descended into chaos during winter crises.

The National Audit Office, however, has said that hospitals with occupancy above 85 per cent will see regular bed shortages, periodic bed crisis and increased infection rates.

Worcestershire, like many others, says it is aiming to reduce that worst case scenario through a number of schemes including reopening or redesignating wards, opening up space in community hospitals, and also through improving patient outflow.

However, as of September it could not yet guarantee its winter measures would bring average bed occupancy rates below 100 per cent – and peaks of 113 per cent

Compared to a £335 million injection last December, an additional £145m has been earmarked to assist England’s hospitals in opening 900 additional beds, and this falls far short of the extra 4,000 beds needed last winter.

The challenges facing Worcestershire are echoed to a greater or lesser degree elsewhere, but with Worcestershire’s operating deficit expected to mushroom to over £57 million this year, it has little left in the kitty locally to stem the tide.