Bed occupancy rates in Northumberland hospital wards are consistently operating above recommended safe levels, Freedom of Information (FOI) statistics suggest.
And campaigners fighting to save 12 under-threat inpatient beds at Rothbury Community Hospital believe the data proves that the facility should be reopened to ease pressure throughout the region.
Bed occupancy rates of higher than 85 per cent can increase the risk of harm, including hospital-acquired infections, research suggests.
While overall bed occupancy levels in hospitals operated by Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust have been within the 85 per cent level for the last three years, a different picture emerges when wards are taken in isolation, including elderly medicine, rehabilitation and GP beds.
FOI figures obtained by the Save Rothbury Hospital campaign group indicate that numerous wards at hospitals in Northumberland, as well as at North Tyneside General in North Shields, regularly break the 90 per cent mark for available beds on a month-by-month basis, and some have operated at or above 100 per cent.
Northumberland Clincial Commissioning Group (CCG) – considering the fate of the Rothbury ward after it was closed in September – said it will factor this into its decision.
In the FOI request, the beds at Rothbury Community Hospital fall into the elderly medicine category. Other hospitals in the region, including Alnwick Infirmary and Morpeth, also have these types of beds.
The figures show that bed occupancy, across the Northumbria NHS Trust for the last three years, has been between 88 per cent and 91 per cent on average.
But, from October 2016 to February 2017, the occupancy rate in this category peaked at a monthly average of 96 per cent.
Of the nine hospital wards with beds in this category, only two managed to keep below 85 per cent occupancy over the five months from October 2016 to February 2017; Berwick for three of those months and North Tyneside General for only one month on two of their wards.
A spokeswoman for the Save Rothbury Hospital campaign group said: “We believe that this data underlines the thrust of our campaign. The return of the 12 inpatient beds makes sense.
“The figures show that they could and should have used the spare beds at Rothbury Hospital to reduce the levels at other hospitals when they exceeded unsafe operating levels.
“Had the 12 inpatient beds at Rothbury Community Hospital not been closed in September and filled to 85 per cent capacity, then the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust could have reported better outcomes on bed occupancy.
“Why did they not do this? Unless they were running down the usage at Rothbury to justify their unadvised decision to close the beds.”
In response, the CCG issued a statement.
It said: “The public consultation on the proposed changes at Rothbury Community Hospital closed on April 25 and we are now considering all of the comments received during the three month consultation period.
“This feedback includes comments about bed management at Rothbury, capacity at community hospitals and suggestions that patients from other parts of the county could be transferred to Rothbury Community Hospital, if they are not well enough to go straight home following care at the Northumbria Hospital or a general hospital in Northumberland or North Tyneside.
“In relation to comparisons with other hospitals, it is always important to ensure that whichever hospital a patient is transferred to can provide the appropriate level of care that he or she needs. It should be noted that not all of the community hospitals in Northumberland provide the same level of care.
“The CCG is now preparing a report outlining all feedback received, as well as consideration of a number of issues including the impact that the temporary closure has had on other hospitals and services. This report will go to the joint locality executive board and then to the governing body.”