'Deeply worrying' waits for hospital beds

- BBC Health Correspondent - 7th December 2016

More than one in 10 patients in England face long delays for a hospital bed after emergency admission.

BBC analysis of NHS figures showed nearly 475,000 patients waited for more than four hours for a bed on a ward in 2015-16 - almost a five-fold increase since 2010-11. Hospitals reported using side rooms and corridors to cope with the growing number of "trolley waits".

NHS bosses acknowledged problems, blaming "growing demand" on the system.

But doctors said hospitals were now dangerously overcrowded, with three quarters of hospitals reporting bed shortages as winter hits. Bed occupancy is not meant to exceed 85% - to give staff time to clean beds, keep infections low and ensure patients who need beds can be found them quickly. But 130 out of 179 hospital trusts are reporting rates exceeding this for general hospital beds.

Hospital managers said the problem was causing "deeply worrying" delays for these patients. They are people who have already faced a wait to be seen in A&E but whose condition is deemed to be so serious they need to be admitted on to a ward. About one in five people who come to A&E fall into this category and it includes the frail elderly and patients with chest pains, breathing problems and fractures.


Patients waiting more than four hours for a hospital bed
Source: NHS England. A change in the way figures are recorded in Dec 2015 has added an estimated 9% more to the total.
Does the NHS have enough beds?
Beds per 1,000 people
Source: OECD

Waiting for a bed

In England: 11%  of emergency patients face a 4 hour "trolley wait"

  • 5x increase in numbers waiting over 4 hours for a bed since 2011

  • 474,453 patients waited +4 hours for a bed 2015-16

  • 97,559 patients waited +4 hours for a bed 2010-11

NHS England & OECD