How the NHS is coping with winter pressures

How well is Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust coping with winter pressures?

By Isabelle Kirk
Friday, 25th January 2019, 1:00 pm
How the NHS is coping with winter.
How the NHS is coping with winter.

NHS England publishes weekly reports which reveal whether hospital trusts are struggling to manage during the colder months, based on key indicators.

This is how the Trust coped from January 7 to 13.

Bed occupancy

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General and acute wards at Northumbria Healthcare were 88.8% full on average, above the safe limit of 85% recommended by health experts.

The occupancy rate has risen slightly since the previous week, when the trust was 86.7% full.

British Medical Association guidelines state ‘to ensure safe patient care, occupancy should ideally not exceed 85%’.

The BMA also raised concerns about the number of available beds needed to cope with winter demands.

On average, Northumbria Healthcare had 897 available beds each day, of which 797 were in use. Of those, eight were escalation beds – temporary beds set up in periods of intense pressure.

According to NHS Improvement, a higher proportion of long-stay patients can impact the ability of hospitals to accommodate urgent admissions and manage bed capacity.

At Northumbria Healthcare, 373 patients had been in hospital for a week or more, taking up nearly half of the occupied beds. Of these, 130 had been in hospital for at least three weeks, making up 16% of all occupied beds.


A total of 866 patients were taken by ambulance to A&E during the week. That’s a drop in emergency arrivals compared to the previous week, when 903 patients were brought by ambulance.

Delays left 184 patients waiting 30 minutes or more before they could be transferred – more than a fifth of all ambulance arrivals.

Of those, 44 unlucky individuals waited longer than an hour.

NHS Improvement guidance states that ambulance crews should hand patients over to A&E staff within 15 minutes of arrival.

Any delay in transferring patients leaves ambulances unable to respond to other emergencies, as well as risking their patients’ safety.

Delays affected considerably more patients than the previous week, when 116 patients waited more than 30 minutes to be transferred.


Norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, is highly contagious. Outbreaks spread rapidly through hospitals, causing staff to close beds to prevent infection spreading.

This week, hospital staff at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust were forced to close three beds when the norovirus problem was at its most severe.

That’s fewer than the previous week, when four beds were shut down due to outbreaks of the virus.

The Trust’s chief operating officer Helen Ray said: “Thanks to careful planning and the herculean efforts of our staff, we have managed to maintain a level of performance and patient care that sees us ranked 10th in the country for A&E waiting times during the month of December. However, with an extra 10,000 people attending our hospitals this year compared to last – already a record – it is clear that our staff are facing significant pressures.

“When this is combined with flu which is starting to affect increasing numbers of patients and the cold weather expected, we know that we face some big challenges over the coming weeks. As such, it is vital that the public do all they can to help their NHS by making the right choices when they need care.

“For instance, please remember you should only attend A&E for the most serious and/or life-threatening conditions and should consider attending our urgent care centres, minor injuries units pharmacies and your own GP if your condition is not as urgent. If anyone is unsure which service is right for them they should ring NHS 111 for advice. This simple step alone will directly and significantly help our staff.”

“Finally, we urge everyone look after themselves and those close to them: get your flu jab, check on your neighbours – especially the elderly – and to prevent the spread of infection make sure you follow good hand washing which is one of the best ways to avoid the spread of infection.”