The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Photo: NNUH
The adult critical care unit at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) was running above maximum safe capacity at the end of June, according to NHS England.
Figures show that 22 of the 25 critical care beds in the unit were full.
That is an occupancy of 88pc – but guidelines say that any higher than 85pc and patient safety could be compromised.
But an NNUH spokesman said: “Around 1,600 patients utilise the facilities on the critical care complex and demand increases every year. Phase one of our expansion plan was completed last year to expand by four beds which had a really positive impact on planned operations and staff and patient experience. A further expansion is planned later this year.
“Capacity is flexed across the whole complex to manage demand and maintain patient safety on a daily basis.”
In the neonatal intensive care unit at the trust, which treats ill or premature babies, 12 of the 15 cots were full.
The Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine dean Dr Carl Waldmann said: “Doctors working at the coalface are concerned that eventually they may be unable to provide the quality of care that their patients deserve.
“Where no beds are available, this can lead to cancelled operations or patients being transferred at their sickest to hospitals away from their loved ones.”
“No intensive care doctor is willing to compromise on patient safety,” he added. “But without specific interventions to alleviate the pressure on the system, the strain on intensive care staff and their resources will continue to put patients at risk.”
Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) consultant committee Dr Rob Harwood said that critical care units work hard to keep occupancy at a lower level, to allow them to accept unpredictable emergency admissions.
He said: “If units are down to the last couple of beds then critical care consultants have to start making very difficult decisions about who to admit.”
“These pressures can no longer be blamed on the winter,” he added. “The NHS has been starved of resources over the last eight to 10 years and we still expect it to deliver the goods.”
Dr Harwood said that improving the availability of critical care beds would involve a significant investment in recruiting and retaining more staff to run them.
He said: “Without this, the NHS will continue to fail to meet demand, patients will continue to suffer unnecessarily, and the current workforce will be stretched even more thinly.”
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