Patients routinely cared for in ‘temporary’ beds

New evidence by the BMA has shown that NHS hospitals in England are facing an ever-increasing struggle to cope with patient demand with patients being routinely cared for in ‘temporary’ beds.

The data reveals that hospitals are now routinely caring for patients in beds that should be used only in emergencies or when there are spikes in demand – such as during winter months. Doctors report that beds which should be for patients who have left operating theatres are being commandeered as escalation beds and this can lead to cancelled operations for planned surgery and delays for emergency surgery, as there is no place for these patients to recover.

Escalation beds are separate from the standard stock in hospitals. They can be mothballed beds that are kept in reserve or additional or repurposed beds brought into other clinical areas. The findings follow the NHS England chief executive’s comments about hospitals needing to increase bed capacity to deal with demand, after years of reductions.

Rob Harwood, BMA consultants committee chair, said: “The use of escalation beds is a sign that trusts are at a critical stage and are unable to cope with demand with their current bed stock. Some hospitals are forced to designate their theatre recovery beds as 'escalation', resulting in elective surgical operations being cancelled as there is no space for those patients who need immediate care after their surgery. I have heard of other cases where beds in Day Procedure Units – surgical units for patients who can have their operation and return home on the same day - are used as escalation spaces for admitting patients for longer ward-style care, meaning healthcare staff cannot continue with routine day care surgical cases.

“Most worryingly, 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. It is obvious in these circumstances that there are also not enough staff to cope with the number of people coming through the hospital’s doors.

“It cannot be right that the NHS is having to use these measures almost permanently, especially when the BMA, other leading healthcare bodies and patient groups have offered solutions. The BMA has been lobbying for thousands of extra beds to be brought into use with the right levels of staff to support them.”

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, responded: “The use of escalation beds is yet another sign that hospitals are struggling to cope under continued pressure. We know this is compromising patient care. The Tories and, in Coalition, the Lib Dems have run down the NHS and imposed the biggest funding squeeze in its history. Ministers should be ashamed that years of cuts to beds, to social care and to funding have led to some of the worst bed occupancy rates in hospitals. The next Labour government will give the NHS the extra resources to ensure we have the quality of care patients deserve.”

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