Seasonal flu, ambulance delays, pressure on beds: The demands facing NHS hospitals in Bucks this winter

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‘We knew this winter would be one of the most difficult in the history of the NHS’

The NHS in England is under increasing pressure, with record waiting lists, extended ambulance delays and rocketing flu patient numbers just some of the challenges facing the service.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made addressing the strain on the NHS one of his five pledges in his first major speech of 2023. Here is the situation at Buckinghamshire’s hospitals.

Flu patients

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The NHS in England is under increasing pressureThe NHS in England is under increasing pressure
The NHS in England is under increasing pressure

The latest NHS England figures show there were 39 flu patients being treated by Bucks Healthcare NHS Trust as of January 1 – up from 38 the week before.

Of these, 38 were in general and acute wards, and one was a patient in critical care.

It represents an increase from the start of the winter – just one patient was being cared for at Bucks Healthcare on November 14, the earliest available figures for this winter.

Across England, flu cases have risen considerably. Health research centre the King's Fund said: "The NHS was struggling before the rise in flu cases, so there is a lot more needed in resources, funding and investment so that services can deal with the same problems should they arise in the future."

Ambulance delays

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Ambulance delays at A&E departments across the country also reached a new high in the week to January 1.

At Bucks Healthcare, 9% of the 433 ambulance arrivals took more than an hour, while 23% waited 30 minutes or more.

NHS targets state trusts should complete 95% of all ambulance handovers in 30 minutes, with all conducted in less than one hour.

A handover delay does not always mean a patient has waited in the ambulance as they could have been moved into an A&E department but the handover was not completed.

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Speaking during a visit to a school in London, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: "We are supporting NHS staff with billions of pounds of extra funding, but in particular this winter, what we want to do is make sure we move people out of hospitals into social care, into communities.

"That is one of the most powerful ways we can ease some of the pressures on A&E departments and ambulances that are waiting too long."

Bed occupancy

As of January 1, 96% of the 477 beds across adult and paediatric general and acute wards at Bucks Healthcare NHS Trust were occupied – including 16 out of 19 critical care beds.

NHS England and NHS Improvement have previously suggested that 92% should be considered the recommended safe limit for bed occupancy in winter.

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High bed occupancy rates can lead to bed shortages and make it difficult to find the optimum bed for a patient’s needs, contributing to waiting time backlogs and delays in A&E.

NHS national medical director for England, Prof Sir Stephen Powis, said: "We knew this winter would be one of the most difficult in the history of the NHS and I want to thank staff for all their hard work in caring for and treating so many patients while dealing with record demand on services, including the enormous pressure from flu and Covid.

"The plans we announced last autumn will help ensure we are in the best place possible to provide care for patients at this incredibly challenging time."