Today’s NHS figures won’t reassure over Coronavirus

Press release on behalf of NHS campaign group Keep Our NHS Public –
Response to today’s monthly figures 11 March 2020

As the NHS and social care gear up to cope with the Coronavirus outbreak, the latest performance figures indicate once again that the service is already under severe strain even before COVID-19 has had much of an impact. Today’s figures show that in January there were 4,123 adult critical care beds open and 3,423 occupied, giving an occupancy rate of 83.0%. This is higher than the occupancy rate observed last month, which was 75.3%. This raises some extremely worrying questions about the ability of the NHS to cope with this pandemic. Since 2010 the NHS has lost a total of 17,000 beds under Conservative-led governments.

In January the four-hour A&E target was achieved for only 1.5m, a 4.5% decrease on the equivalent figure for February 2019. This highlights how front-line staff are struggling with a clinical vacancy rate of over 50,000. In addition, trolley waits in A&E of more than four hours for those being admitted (associated with an increased risk of death) have increased from the same period last year. There were 78,656 four-hour delays from decision to admit to admission this month, which compares to 70,815 in the same month last year. Of these 1,621 waited more than 12 hours, which compares to 521 in the same month last year. Patients waiting for long periods in busy departments where people are infected with Coronavirus will only add to the public health hazard and the stress of staff, especially when space is at a premium.

Patients waiting to go home for a bed in social care or similar have increased. The 160,600 total delayed days in January 2020 is equivalent to an average of 5,182 people delayed per day. This is the highest number since October 2017. This similarly will have a massive impact on the ability to cope with Coronavirus if people cannot be discharged into the community when beds are desperately needed. Yesterday’s budget offered nothing for social care, and yet it is inextricably linked with the NHS and the two must work together.

Co-Chair of Keep Our NHS Public and retired Consultant Paediatrician Dr Tony O’Sullivan says:

“These latest figures heighten the fears setting in about how the NHS will cope as Coronavirus spreads. Reports from Italian healthcare staff are alarming, and their health service has far more capacity than ours. It is not an acceptable policy to have neglected the health service for the past decade but now expect it to be able to effectively deal with this kind of emergency. Many hospitals already operate at close to 100% capacity and rota-gaps are the norm. Through their underfunding and understaffing the government have put the health of the public at risk and set our NHS staff up to fail, many do not even have adequate clothing protection to deal with the outbreak.”

Data from Italy indicates that 10% of admitted patients have required intensive care, and doctors there are now having to triage cases according to likelihood of survival. The UK is ranked at only number 24 out of 31 European countries in the league table for critical care beds, and the current 41,000 are almost always full. Among contingency plans now being made, intensivists are talking about expanding provision by taking over operating theatres and cancelling all elective surgery.

Co-Chair of Keep Our NHS Public and Paediatrician Dr John Puntis says:

“While the NHS has many strengths including its still intact public service ethos, and its national/coordinated rather than regional character (something currently being undermined by NHS England), the weakest links in the chain of protection provided by the NHS and other public services for citizens exactly mirror the targets damaged by the most ignorant, vindictive and ideological of the policies of our irresponsible political leaders. These include the slashing of social care and severe cuts to the very public health system the country is now hoping to rely upon. Once again, we call for proper investment in the NHS, social care and public health together with a return to the NHS founding principles as the most effective strategy for successfully managing threats posed by pandemic infection.”

Spokespeople are available for broadcast interview. Please contact Samantha Wathen Press Officer for Keep Our NHS Public or call: 0777 604 7472

Notes to editors

All statistical data is taken from NHS monthly hospital activity out today: