The latest statistics on winter pressures facing NHS trusts come after GPonline revealed that GPs in parts of the country are being told to reduce hospital referrals, to avoid referrals altogether to some hospitals or to stop sending patients to specific departments within local hospitals. Patients waiting in A&E have also been bounced back to GP practices.
Data from NHS England show that across the country, the average bed occupancy rate in hospitals was 94.6% for the week from 4 December to 10 December - up from 94.5% the week before.
This is well above the 85% target for hospitals, and reveals that hospitals are already under extreme pressure only a week into winter.
Read more on winter pressures
> GPs told to reduce referrals as winter pressure bites
> Patients will have to 'sleep, take paracetamol and pray'
> Two thirds of GPs say their practice will struggle to cope this winter
Every single bed was full in up to 8% of hospitals across England at times during last week, GPonline analysis of NHS data shows.
GPs have hit out at pressure to limit referrals to secondary care as winter begins, warning that practices do not take the decision to send patients to hospital lightly and that restricting access to hospital will put patients at risk.
GPs usually refer patients to hospital when they need treatment not available elsewhere or specialist treatment or advice.— Mary Hawking (@dochawking) December 13, 2017
Won't not referring patients because of winter pressures put some patients at risk?
There is a limit to "reducing demand" solely by not referring needy pts! https://t.co/numQLGODNo
Alarmingly, at 87% of hospital trusts 90% or more acute and general beds were occupied on average throughout last week - a level that researchers have said is likely to trigger 'regular bed shortages and periodic bed crises'.
Last winter this led to scores of hospitals declaring major pressure alerts, warning that patient flow was compromised or that routine services could not be fully maintained - with GP practices facing a rise in appointments as patients waited longer for hospital treatment.
GP leaders have warned that the level of pressure on hospitals at the start of this winter is likely to increase pressure on general practice. Two thirds of GPs told a recent GPonline poll that their practice would struggle to cope this winter, and nine out of 10 say the wider NHS will struggle.