winter pressures

Beds, beds, beds – Devon’s NHS couldn’t or wouldn’t give me their overall occupancy figure for the recent winter: but they were forced to buy in more capacity and there were ’12-hour trolley breaches’

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Devon NHS’s Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) admitted in a report to Health Scrutiny yesterday that they had been desperately short of beds during the recent winter. They had to buy in extra beds to keep up with more patients staying longer, because of complex conditions. There were ’12-hour trolley breaches’, where patients had to wait more than 12 hours to be seen.

Despite my asking them directly, they did not give a figure for overall occupancy levels, although they did not deny my suggestion that they had been as bad as or worse than the   nationally reported level of 95 per cent. (The nationally recommended safe level is 85 per cent.)

Jo Tearle, Deputy Chief Operating Officer for the Devon CCGs, rebutted my suggestion that cutting community beds had contributed to this crisis, saying that these were not the kind of beds they had needed, and that there had been capacity in community hospitals most of the time. However this suggests that there was no capacity some of the time. It is difficult not to believe that extra community beds wouldn’t have given them more leeway.

Meanwhile, Kerry Storey of Devon County Council indicated the strains that the ‘new model of care’ at home had been under. She said that maintaining personal care at home during the winter had been ‘a real challenge’, requiring ‘creativity and innovation’ – you don’t need much imagination to see that it will have been a real crisis time with frail people at home in isolated areas, care workers and nurses struggling to get through the snow, and staff themselves suffering higher levels of illness.

I and others predicted that because of the closure of community beds, there would be severe pressure on beds in a bad winter or a flu epidemic (and actually, this was not overall a bad winter and the snow episodes were late and short; despite higher levels of flu, there was no epidemic this winter).