How occupancy rates are affecting the NHS

The 2012 Dr Foster Hospital Guide has published its findings regarding occupancy rates in the various trusts around the country. Bed usage inevitably differs throughout the year and throughout the day as well, but when are the worst times for occupancy rates and how do they affect the efficiency of hospitals?

The report found out that during the day, the highest point of occupancy is at midday, with the highest point in the week being mid-week – usually Tuesdays or Wednesdays – with bed usage falling at weekends. The average occupancy for beds at mid-week is 88%. This high occupancy rate may seem startling, but the fact is that most trusts are over 90% occupied for at least 48 weeks a year.

If we’re looking at the whole year, there is usually a big dip in usage during holidays such as Christmas, generally followed by a peak in the days immediately after the festive period. Winter in general can be busy in terms of bed usage, especially when considering the effects that the cold months can have on elderly patients. During the winter, it was found that 68 trusts in the UK have more than 95% occupancy.

So what do all these facts and figures mean? Basically, when looking at patient care, hospitals start to struggle when occupancy gets above 85%. The resources become more strained, staff get spread too thinly, and the quality of the care they are able to provide is inevitably reduced. As most trusts are 90% occupied for the vast majority of the year – and as this rises even more during the winter months – this is an area that definitely needs to be looked at more closely.

The problem, however, only seems to be getting worse. The Hospital Guide has found that over the last 5 years, emergency admissions – especially of frail and elderly patients – have increased, resulting in 10,000 extra beds being needed in order to cope with the rising intake. This amount of beds equates to two complete hospitals.

While, in general, hospital beds have decreased in number over the past quarter of a century (by a third), the rising admissions are putting a huge strain on resources and the quality of care. In order to combat this, trusts need to integrate with social care and work with community services in order to try and keep unnecessary admissions down and occupancy rates lower.

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