‘More than half of hospitals have opened extra beds to help them cope with the NHS winter crisis amid an influx of patients with potentially fatal breathing problems.
Many of the so-called escalation beds are already occupied by people suffering from flu, pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbated by the arrival of very cold weather in many parts of the UK.
The British Thoracic Society (BTS), which represents specialist lung doctors and nurses, has found that 52% of UK hospitals have already created extra bed capacity to help them prepare for the imminent surge in winter demand.
In addition, almost half (48%) have kept open and are still using the overflow beds they created last winter, in a sign that the sustained pressure the NHS is under is not confined to December, January and February.
“As the winter season starts, life is already really tough at the coal-face of the NHS,” said Prof Jon Bennett, the chair of the BTS.
“It’s a sign of the intense year-round pressure that the NHS is under that more than half of hospitals have already opened extra ‘winter beds’ to help them cope with the cold season – and that many haven’t closed them from last year.
“We are already hearing of rising numbers of people being admitted to hospital with potentially fatal lung and breathing problems who require specialist support.
“[While] an under-resourced NHS lung workforce is working tirelessly to provide the best possible care in the circumstances … we just can’t carry on like this long term.”
The findings, which are from a survey of 69 senior doctors who report on lung care services in hospitals, reflect the situation in the whole NHS, he said.’