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NHS bed occupancy levels hit record high during last quarter of 2016

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The latest NHS bed occupancy figures are the highest ever recorded for a third quarter since quarterly data collections began in 2010, providing a further sign of the system’s capacity challenges.

The average occupancy rate for all beds open overnight between October and December 2016 was 88.3% – up from 87.2% for the same quarter in 2015-16 – against the 85% standard, according to data published by NHS England.

Higher bed occupancy figures have only ever been recorded in fourth quarters, which are usually the busiest period of the year for the NHS. Overall, bed occupancy rates were 89% in quarter four of 2015-16, and 88.5% in quarter four of 2014-15.

The average occupancy rate for general and acute beds open overnight in quarter three this year was 90.5%, compared with 89.1% a year earlier.

Health Service Journal analysis of the data shows six hospital trusts recorded average general and acute bed occupancy rates of over 99% for the quarter (see table below). Nine more recorded a rate of over 95%, while further 10 recorded average occupancy of over 95%.

Weston Area Health NHS Trust, in Somerset, faired worst, according to the data, with 100% average occupancy across the period. The trust, which has been struggling for a while, is now working with neighbouring acute providers.

Earlier this year, the boards of Weston Area Health NHS Trust and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust announced they had agreed to establish a formal partnership arrangement, increasing the level of joint working between the two trusts.

This new collaboration is being created as part of the NHS vision of developing networks between smaller and larger trusts and reflects the ongoing North Somerset Sustainability programme to build a strong future for Weston General Hospital.

Table: Acute trusts with the highest bed occupancy

TrustGeneral and acute bed occupancyTotal bed occupancy
Weston Area Health Trust 100.0% 100.0%
Milton Keynes University Hospital FT 99.6% 95.5%
Medway FT 99.5% 95.6%
Ipswich Hospital Trust 99.5% 97.7%
Kettering General Hospital FT 99.3% 96.8%
Western Sussex Hospitals FT 99.1% 96.4%
Croydon Health Services Trust 98.5% 95.3%
Dartford and Gravesham Trust 98.2% 97.2%
Lewisham and Greenwich Trust 97.5% 97.3%
North Middlesex University Hospital Trust 97.2% 95.3%
North Bristol Trust 97.2% 95.3%
Heart of England FT 96.7% 95.3%
Kingston Hospital FT 96.5% 96.7%
Northamptonshire Healthcare FT 96.4% 95.2%
Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Univeristy Hospitals Trust 96.1% 96.1%
University Hospitals Birmingham FT 95.3% 95.3%

The table shows acute trusts’ average occupancy rate for general and acute beds open overnight and overall bed occupancy rates for Q3 2016-17. Source: NHS England.

Of the 212 trusts which provided data, 147 (69%) were above the 85% occupancy level system leaders ordered trusts to achieve in December.

The most challenged trusts on this metric were mainly acute trusts, but the second and third highest recorded figures were from mental health providers Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and Barnet, Enfield and Haringey NHS Mental Health Trust, respectively.

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