The NHS will need up to 10,000 extra beds to safely care for patients this winter, as the health service registered record levels of admissions last winter, the BMA has warned.
New BMA analysis published today – which studied NHS England data on bed occupancy rates and winter trends from previous years – painted a black picture for the winter months, from January to March 2019.
According to BMA predictions for the winter months, more than 300,000 patients could wait for over four hours in emergency departments before being admitted, failing to meet the four-hour A&E waiting time target.
BMA consultant committee chair Dr Rob Harwood said this winter could be the ‘worst on record’ for emergency departments, just a month after the BMA said A&E departments are experiencing a ‘year-round crisis’.
This year in February, bed occupancy rates hit 95.1%, well above National Audit Office guidance saying that occupancy should not be higher than 85%, the BMA said.
To be able to cope with a high occupancy rate, the NHS will need to introduce between four and five thousand temporary escalation beds from January to March.
If it aims at reducing occupancy down to the recommended limit of 92%, the NHS will need to continue using 5,000 escalation beds opened last year and will need a further 5,000 general and acute beds.
The BMA also expects that without extra resources, the worst case scenario could see as many as 305,000 patients could wait for over four hours on trolleys between January and March 2019.
Emergency departments could also struggle to meet the 95% Government target of seeing, admitting or discharging patients within four hours of visiting the emergency departments, hitting a new low falling between 84.3% and 82.5%.
According to BMA analysis published in May, last winter was the worst on record, as performance against the four-hour wait target dropped from 87.2% in 2016/17 to 85% in 2017/18.
Need for ‘planned resourcing for emergency departments’
Royal College of Emergency Medicine president Dr Taj Hassan said the extra £145m announced by the Government in September, which was especially allocated to help hospitals improve emergency care and better face winter pressures, wasn’t enough and came too late.
Dr Hassan said: ‘We have issued guidance to trust and board leaders on the actions they can take to help mitigate the impact of winter, but this is no substitute for meaningful long-term action.
‘The forthcoming 10 year plan for the NHS must include significant, planned resourcing for our emergency departments and end the cycle of impromptu bailout following short-sighted annual underfunding.’
A DHSC spokesperson said that the upcoming NHS long-term plan ‘will improve front-line services and put our health service on a sustainable footing for years to come’.
The spokesperson said: ‘Despite an extra 840,000 people going to A&E, hardworking NHS staff have seen nearly half a million more people within four hours over the last 12 months than compared to last year.’