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The British Thoracic Society has found that 52 per cent of UK hospitals have already created extra bed capacity to help them prepare for the imminent surge in winter demand.
While many of the so-called escalation beds are already occupied by people suffering from flu, pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 48 per cent of hospitals have kept open and are still using the overflow beds they created last winter.
Bed occupancy figures in July, August and September were the worst for the time of year since records began.
Jon Bennett, the chair of the BTS, said: “As the winter season starts, life is already really tough at the coal-face of the NHS. It’s a sign of the intense year-round pressure that the NHS is under that more than half of hospitals have already opened extra ‘winter beds’ to help them cope with the cold season – and that many haven’t closed them from last year.
“We are already hearing of rising numbers of people being admitted to hospital with potentially fatal lung and breathing problems who require specialist support. While an under-resourced NHS lung workforce is working tirelessly to provide the best possible care in the circumstances … we just can’t carry on like this long term.”
The findings are the result of a survey of 69 senior doctors who report on lung care services in hospitals.