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Just one free bed in critical care unit in the Royal Surrey

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Just one free bed in critical care unit in the Royal Surrey

Published at 1:38pm 25th February 2019. (Updated at 7:52pm 25th February 2019)

The adult critical care unit in the Royal Surrey County Hospital had just one free bed at the end of December, NHS Digital data reveals.

The Society of Acute Medicine says keeping occupancy well within safe levels is particularly important in critical care.

The latest figures show 20 of the 21 critical care beds in the unit were occupied - a rate of 95%.

Guidelines recommend units run at no more than 85% capacity - any higher and they say patient safety could be compromised.

In addition, the neonatal unit for seriously ill and premature babies at the Royal Surrey County Hospital had three of its five cots occupied at the end of December, a rate of 60%.

Critical care units include both intensive care units, for patients who cannot breathe unaided, have life-threatening conditions or multiple organ failure, and the less acute high dependency units, for patients recovering from major operations or with a single failing organ.

SAM President Dr Nick Scriven said full critical care units are "a nightmare" for hospitals, causing a serious risk to patients who could be moved to less safe areas as a result.

He added that over winter flu-related illnesses have put additional pressure on already over-stretched acute units.

He said:

"The importance of keeping capacity low is partly due to actual numbers of beds being relatively small, so any slight surge has a significant impact.

"Staffing is also key for these areas, as nurse-to-patient ratios are by necessity very high and any shortfall in staff leads to closed beds."

Critical care beds closed because of lack of staff are not recorded by the NHS, and according to the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, official figures may underestimate the scale of the problem.

A survey published by the FICM in March 2018 found 80% of critical care units in the UK have to transfer patients due to lack of beds, with a fifth moving seriously ill patients on a monthly basis.

Dr Carl Waldmann, Dean of the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine, added: "Running at this capacity level also has a potential negative impact on the wellbeing of critical care staff, mounting stress upon already difficult jobs."

Dr. Amish Patel, Royal Surrey’s Intensive Care Unit Clinical Director said:

“The safety of our patients is paramount and while we work hard to consistently deliver the highest standards of safe care, there are a number of factors that contribute to the higher capacity within our Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

“As a leading tertiary cancer centre we admit a number of high risk elective surgical patients to ICU from theatre every day for enhanced recovery. Our enhanced recovery programme is extremely successful in reducing post-operative complications and the overall length of stay that patients have in hospital following complex surgery.

“We also perform emergency laparotomy procedures (emergency surgery for serious abdominal complaints, which is recognised best practice) and all these patients are also admitted to ICU, as are other high risk elective patients.

“In addition to these factors, there are also those that we will have in common with neighbouring Trusts, including an increase in the number of medical patients over the winter months who need to be admitted to ICU for respiratory illnesses and delays in discharging patients once they are well enough to leave ICU due to general hospital wards also being very busy.

“As the figures show, we have an extremely busy intensive care unit at Royal Surrey and I am proud to be part of the dedicated team who work tirelessly to deliver exceptional standards of care to all our patients.”


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