Worrying reports emerged yesterday of the true extent of facility pressures at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
An internal audit, carried out by the health board in January, found that the hospital was over maximum capacity with 694 patients filling the hospital’s 689 beds. Those who could not be found a bed were left in side rooms to wait for capacity to free up.
Given the mix of cases on the day of the audit, it was also found that patients were being left in wards that were not the appropriate speciality for their condition raising concerns over the level of care patients are receiving.
The findings of the audit underline the lack of slack in the system at the ERI. As a general rule, hospitals aim to remain at around 85% capacity. This allows the hospital to cope in situations where there is an unexpected or short-term rise in admissions such as outbreaks of winter flu or norovirus. However, at the ERI there is no flexibility in the system meaning that when outbreaks occur they cannot accommodate the increase.
An underlying concern to the lack of capacity is the issue of bed blocking – where patients who are ready to be discharged have to remain because of problems arranging post-hospital care. One in five of the patients recorded in the ERI on the day of the audit were deemed to be bed blocking.
Across the NHS Lothian area, there has been a decline in hospital bed numbers over the past 18 months. 70 new beds for the ERI were planned for the summer but this has now been pushed back to the end of the year. It is vital that the Scottish Government provides support to help NHS Lothian to find a solution to the capacity issues it is clearly facing.