National Health Service (NHS) Providers has released a briefing paper which paints a concerning picture of how the UK’s hospitals will handle the coming winter season. The health authority believes they’ve done all they can to prepare, however with many centers nearing capacity it’s likely they’ll face some challenges in the coming months.
Currently, the NHS is operating at 87 percent bed occupancy, which is three percent above their target of 85 percent. According to the briefing, delays in discharging patients is adding to the occupancy issues and creating a bottleneck.
Shortages of doctors and nurses capable of caring for patients is also limiting the ability of some health centers from confidently going into the winter season. Additional funding provided to the NHS to help mitigate some of these issues has come too late to significantly improve the situation.
“We’re lucky to get below 99 percent bed occupancy rates,” the chief executive of one trust told The Guardian. “We plan for winter all year round, but there’s an underlying lack of beds and resources.”
To make matters worse, the UK is gearing up for what’s been predicted to be the worst flu season in two decades. The NHS Providers paper says that this year’s strain has “already placed health systems in Australia and New Zealand under severe pressure earlier this year.”
According to Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, there is growing concern that this winter could cripple the NHS.
“While staff on the frontline will, as always, pull out all the stops to provide safe care, the fact remains the NHS is 1,400 beds short of what it needs this winter,” said Scriven. “The fear is that we have not faced an infection crisis over winter for several years and if the Australasian experience is repeated here the system will be swamped as never before.”