NHS hospitals ran out of children's intensive care beds more than a thousand times this winter, Labour says

Paediatric specialists have previously called NHS England's figures a 'misleading' underestimate of pressures

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 13 March 2018 01:08 GMT

The equivalent of ten children’s intensive care units a day are unable to find a single spare bed in the latest warning sign that health services are “on the brink”, according to Labour analysis.

Winter data, published weekly by NHS England since 20 November, shows that NHS trusts declared they had run out of paediatric intensive care (PIC) beds on 1,058 occasions this winter.

This includes some smaller trusts which have only had available beds on three of the 105 days of the winter so far.

Just six NHS trusts, out of the 46 who have operational intensive care beds, have managed to avoid reporting hitting full capacity, something which Labour links to bed numbers being at the lowest levels since 2012.

“Despite the very best efforts of our brilliant NHS staff, our findings today reveal a dismal picture of the unprecedented pressures faced by paediatric intensive care units across the country,” said Labour Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth.

He added it “beggars belief” that Prime Minister Theresa May had claimed, earlier this year, that the NHS was better prepared for winter than ever before, adding: “The truth is health cuts have pushed services to the brink and Theresa May should be ashamed.”

The official figures published weekly by NHS England have already been labelled “inaccurate” by experts this winter.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told The Independent the data was “misleading” because it showed services were on average 60 to 70 per cent full when they closer to 90 per cent occupied.

Professor Neena Modi, the RCPCH president, previously said only the hard work of staff meant children were getting the care they need “but the system really is reaching breaking point”.

Despite these pressures some hospitals were forced to shut paediatric wards to house adult patients when winter pressures were at their peak over Christmas.

NHS England's figures show six trust reported paediatric intensive care beds were at 100 per cent capacity for over 50 days this winter.

Luton and Dunstable University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s children’s intensive care beds were completely full on 102 occasions, meaning there were no spare beds 97 per cent of the time.

The trust told The Independent it did not have a dedicated paediatric intensive care unit and was unable to immediately comment on the occupancy numbers.

Smaller trusts with relatively fewer PIC beds are more likely to declare 100 per cent occupancy, they may also not have a dedicated PIC unit and may vary the number of beds available to meet demand or send patients to larger hospitals.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We know the NHS is busy, but in fact, despite the added pressures of flu and norovirus, overall occupancy rates of paediatric intensive care beds have been at 78.7 per cent over winter, so this is a completely misleading picture.”

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