Hospitals in England are struggling to cope with the rising demand.
The data, obtained by Freedom of Information (FIO) Requests reveals how 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 the 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.
The findings come as NHS chief executive Simon Stevens acknowledges that hospitals would need to increase bed capacity to deal with demand, after years of reductions. The BMA has previously said that the NHS needs 10,000 extra beds to guarantee safe care all year round.
Beds in corridors.
Dr 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.
Responding to the news, Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive and General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “Hospital bosses should only increase bed capacity if they have the nursing staff to care for the people in them. Otherwise, patients are put at risk. Full-to-bursting hospitals are not places people want to be treated or work.
“NHS managers can’t make good decisions on bed use without certainty around staffing. Until that is resolved, we’ll see more chaos on wards. We need a properly-funded staffing plan backed up by legislation to make Ministers accountable for safe and effective staffing.”