A leading doctor has warned hospitals across the NHS could be “jammed full” as early as tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said colder weather and snow forecast across the country alongside increasingly high bed occupancy was “deeply concerning”.
“Last week we saw bed occupancy figures published showing that the NHS is short of more than 1,400 beds it needs for winter, with some units reporting more than 95% bed occupancy,” he said.
“One major hospital in the north was on 97%, with the traditionally accepted figure for a safe and efficient service being less than 87%.
“This shows the strain the system is under running into winter and more specifically the challenge the first real cold snap will cause.”
Dr Scriven said as rates of referral increase across all areas during cold weather, most hospitals could be operating at full capacity this week.
“We know in cold weather the rates of referral to hospital with many conditions rises – I think figures show it starts with a mean daytime temperature of four degrees,” he explained.
“This is across all areas, heart attacks, strokes, chest infections and pneumonia, as well as the perhaps expected falls, slips and broken bones.
“If the forecast for colder weather and snow is correct – as we saw over the weekend – I would predict most hospitals will be jammed full by tomorrow afternoon.”
He said frontline staff were going “above and beyond” to get to work despite bad weather and stay late in some parts of the country to help hospitals meet the demand already being faced.
“Frontline staff already pushed to their maximum are still going above and beyond to help their hospitals run as safely and effectively as possible.
“Members of the public can do their bit by following the advice that is out there from the NHS including using the range of alternative options for minor illness rather than adding pressure to emergency departments.”
Acute medicine, also known as acute internal medicine, deals with the immediate and early treatment of adult patients with a variety of medical conditions who present to hospital as emergencies.
The specialty receives the majority of patients admitted from A&E and plays a vital role in maintaining the flow of patients through emergency departments to avoid exit block, the term used when patients cannot be moved into a hospital bed.