Hospitals are having to treat patients on makeshift wards in places such as corridors because they are so relentlessly busy, research shows.
They are using temporary wards created to ease winter pressures throughout the year to cope with the rising demand for care, and patients are having their surgery cancelled at the last minute because hospital managers have commandeered their bed for an emergency admittance.
Hospitals have begun routinely deploying thousands of escalation beds, which are meant to help ease a temporary spike in demand, because they so often run out of normal beds, official NHS figures show.
On 3 March, NHS hospitals in England were using 3,428 escalation beds for patients, even though winter pressures had eased by then, according to data obtained by the British Medical Association.
They were still relying on at least 1,637 such beds as recently as 1 May, though the true total will be higher as that number was based on figures supplied by just 80 of England’s 240 NHS trusts.
The intense pressure on beds can result in patients being placed on beds in corridors or in bits of other facilities, sometimes cramping treatment areas and causing unacceptable stress to the patient and their families, said Dr Rob Harwood, the chair of the consultants committee at the BMA, the doctors’ union. It cannot be right that the NHS is having to use these measures almost permanently.
The BMA says the service needs 10,000 more beds to cope with the additional demand created by the ageing and growing population.
This week Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS in England, admitted the loss of almost 15,000 hospital beds since 2010 was too many and that more beds would be needed in the next few years
The Care Quality Commission said on Thursday that the quality of care inpatients received was being affected because hospitals were so full and understaffed.
Dr Nick Scriven, the president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: Anyone who works in hospitals will recognise this state of affairs and it’s probably been in place in many units since the beginning of winter 2017/18 with little or no respite.
The system is now so reliant on this extra capacity that most hospitals cannot survive even minor changes in pressure that occur. Even just a weekend can throw some into chaos, with beds opening on a Sunday and taking until the Thursday to close on a never-ending cycle.
An NHS spokesperson said: The NHS long-term plan sets out a series of measures to keep more people well with the care they need in the community.
But local areas are also looking at how many beds they will need to help them deliver the improvements in care we want to see, and where they identify a case for more beds we will support them in seeking the capital investment to deliver this.