Over 1,400 hospital beds in London occupied by patients who are fit to be discharged

A nurse works on a patient in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) in St George's Hospital in Tooting, south-west London (PA)
A nurse works on a patient in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) in St George's Hospital in Tooting, south-west London (PA)

Over 1,400 hospital beds in London are occupied by patients who are medically fit to be discharged, the Standard can reveal.

It comes after the Government announced an extra £200m of funding to buy extra care home beds to speed up the discharge of hospital patients.

A lack of hospital beds is causing gridlock in A&E departments, with patients enduring long waits for treatment. Many beds are occupied by patients who have nowhere else to go due to a lack of capacity in the social care system.

More than 7,150 Londoners waited more than 12 hours to be admitted to A&E in November alone, an increase of 46 per cent in three months.

High bed occupancy rates mean that patients in need of a bed often face a delay in finding one, contributing to waits in A&E.

The latest NHS figures reveal that a total of 1,588 beds in London hospital were occupied by patients who were fit to be discharged on December 27 last year.

It is the highest figure recorded so far this winter and a rise of nearly 16 per cent on the figure reported two weeks prior.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay on Monday announced a new package of funding to immediately buy short-term placements in community settings, including care homes, to fund stays of up to four weeks per patient until the end of March.

He hopes thousands of extra patients will be discharged in the coming weeks, freeing up much-needed hospital beds.

If successful, this will reduce pressure on A&Es and speed up ambulance handovers by allowing patients to be admitted to wards from emergency departments more quickly.

Speaking to the Commons, Mr Barclay said he and the Government regret that the “experience” for some patients and staff in emergency care has not been “acceptable” in recent weeks.

“There’s no question it has been an extraordinary difficult time for everyone in health and care. Flu has made this winter particularly tough. First, because we’re facing the worst flu season for 10 years.”

He said the Government plans to book beds in residential homes, boost capacity in A&Es, and stop inspections of emergency staff to ease the immediate NHS crisis.

“When combined with the ramping up of the £500 million discharge funding… capacity on wards will be freed up, which in turn enables those patients admitted by emergency departments to move to wards, which in turn unblocks ambulance delays.”

But health bosses have raised concerns over a shortage of employees in the social care sector to staff the beds. There are around 165,000 vacancies in social care and 133,000 in the NHS.

Mr Barclay said: “The NHS is under enormous pressure from Covid and flu, and on top of tackling the backlog caused by the pandemic, Strep A and upcoming strikes, this winter poses an extreme challenge.

“I am taking urgent action to reduce pressure on the health service, including investing an additional £200 million to enable the NHS to immediately buy up beds in the community to safely discharge thousands of patients from hospital and free up hospital capacity, on top of the £500 million we’ve already invested to tackle this issue.”

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said the policy was a “sticking plaster” to “cover the fact that under the Conservatives, our health and care services are buckling”.

“The Tories’ failure to fix social care means thousands of patients who are medically fit to be discharged remain stranded, leaving hospitals gridlocked. It is worse for patients and more expensive for the taxpayer.”