Hospitals almost full for fourth week in a row as NHS winter pressure continues

Hospitals experienced average bed occupancy rates of 95% in the week to 4 February - the fourth week in a row that they have been around 10% above the target limit.

NHS services across England remain under intense pressure as flu continues to drive up workload across primary and secondary care, and winter pressures data from NHS England reveal that - a week after the nationwide freeze on elective care was lifted - hospital are continuing to struggle.

Across hospitals in England, 95% of beds were full on average in the week to 4 February - well above the 85% bed occupancy target that trusts aim for to lower the risk of crisis in the event of a rapid influx of patients.

Numbers of patients waiting more than half an hour for transfer from an ambulance to A&E staff rose in the past week, up to 11,396 from 11,061 a week earlier. Numbers of patients facing 60-minute delays or longer rose to 2,318 from 2,143.

Winter pressure

A total of 85.3% of patients were seen within four hours at A&E in January, up slightly from 85.1% in December.

An NHS England spokesman said: 'Despite the worst flu season in seven years, A&E performance improved this month. It was better than both the month before, and was better too than the same time last winter. This was partly helped by the fact that NHS-related delayed transfers of care fell to their lowest in four years, freeing up beds for patients needing emergency hospitalisation.'

However, Nuffield Trust chief economist John  Appleby said that 80,000 patients waited on trolleys for more than four hours in A&E in January - and 1,000 for more than 12 hours. He said the figures were the 'worst since records began' and were deeply concerning.

Updated flu statistics are expected later today. Figures a week ago showed that GP flu consultations remained high across the UK and that in parts of England they were still rising.

GP leaders have warned that practices have faced intense pressure this winter as cancelled elective care drove up appointments from worried patients, adding to a seasonal rise in illness and existing high workload in primary care.

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