Winter bed pressures affecting Scottish hospitals

New figures have shown that hospitals across Scotland are feeling the strain of winter bed pressures, with many already operating at above-recommended occupancy levels.

The research – which was carried out by Scotland on Sunday – revealed that high bed occupancy rates and rising new admissions were causing problems, ahead of the expected annual increase due to flu and winter vomiting bugs.

Action is needed urgently to ensure that hospitals are able to cope with increasing demand, and to prevent patients having to be moved to different wards in order to make way for new admissions.

An additional £9 million has been given to NHS boards by the Scottish Government in a bid to assist with the winter pressures, which makes up part of its unscheduled care action plan, which totals £50 million.

Many Scottish hospitals were reporting bed occupancy rates over the level at which it is deemed ‘difficult’ to provide quality care for patients. This level – 85 per cent occupancy – is also the level above which it is deemed challenging to limit the spread of infections and avoid making medical errors.

Occupancy rates for acute beds stood at 97.8 per cent at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, 96.8 per cent at Edinburgh’s Western General and 91.4 per cent at St John’s Hospital in Livingston, NHS Lothian reported last week.

Meanwhile, the largest NHS board in Scotland, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, reported an occupancy rate of just under 94 per cent, with only 277 of its 4,319 beds free at the end of last week.

The British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland said it had warned earlier this year that there was not enough capacity in the NHS to deal with any significant rise in demand for hospital beds this winter.

Deputy chairman of the BMA in Scotland, Dr Charles Saunders, told The Scotsman: “It is vital that hospital and primary care services have the flexibility to manage sharp rises in demand, particularly from elderly patients.

“The problem is that many NHS services are already working at full capacity and there is little scope for flexibility,” he added.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman confirmed that the Government was “working closely with boards to ensure the NHS is fully prepared for this winter following last winter’s norovirus and respiratory pressures.”