WINTER has arrived and as temperatures plummet the health services get squeezed.

Health bosses are urging everyone to keep themselves as well to make sure beds are available.

MARY NAYLOR reports.

FIGURES released by the NHS show around 90 per cent of Royal Bolton Hospital’s beds are already full.

NHS England releases a weekly pressure report during winter showing how hospitals are managing and on Sunday Bolton was at 92.7 per cent capacity. On Monday, December 3 the hospital was 96.4 per cent full.

On Sunday seven patients waited more than an hour to be transferred from an ambulance.

Guidance by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence published this year notes: “The National Audit Office has suggested that hospitals with average bed occupancy levels above 85 per cent can expect to have regular bed shortages, periodic bed crises and increased numbers of health care-acquired infections.”

Last year the hospital was put under incredible strain by the national flu epidemic which for unknown reasons hit Bolton harder and earlier than anywhere else in the country.

A total of 360 people were admitted to Royal Bolton Hospital with the flu last year, all needing hospital treatment.

Of those 20 died.

This year the hospital has suffered with a backlog from this epidemic, as well as still coping with other backlogs like that from the junior doctors strike two years ago.

As of Sunday the hospital had 592 beds open, of which 549 were occupied, although it still has capacity to expand because it had not opened up any of its escalation beds.

The hospital opens two extra wards during winter to help deal with additional patients.

Of the patients in hospital, 69 have been in for more than three weeks with long-term conditions. 232 have been in for longer than a week.

Chief Operating Officer Andy Ennis said: “During the first week of December, the hospital was running at high bed occupancy. This mirrors a national picture as many trusts throughout England experienced bed occupancy above 85%.

“High bed occupancy does impact on flow, that is, how quickly people move through the hospital to home or care setting as in times of high bed occupancy patients will wait longer for a bed to become available.

“In line with our winter plans, we have now opened an additional ward in the hospital, which gives us up to another 25 beds, allowing us to flex and open beds according to demand, and that extra capacity has meant bed occupancy has fallen.

“It is not true to say that high bed occupancy results in a high levels of Hospital Acquired Infections. We have stringent infection control procedures and have low figures for infections such as c.diff and common infections such as norovirus.

“Our hospital admissions remain around the same level regardless of the time of year, but, in winter, we do see an increase in the number of people who come in with multiple problems or complexities and this means they require a longer stay to recover. As temperatures dip, we’re also seeing more people with respiratory infections.

“We would urge people to use A&E responsibly, for emergencies only, and do all they can to look after themselves and their families over winter, making sure they’re eating well, keeping warm, staying hydrated.”

Royal Bolton Hospital has been using a new streaming service in A&E to make sure patient waiting times are not too high and to provide GP access for patients who do not need to be in hospital. In some cases this will mean patients are referred elsewhere for care, if they do not need hospital treatment.

In Greater Manchester there were 26,548 A&E attendances at Greater Manchester hospitals. This is slightly lower than this time last year which saw 26,906 attendances.

In the region there were a total of 8,891 999 calls last week.

Jon Rouse, chief officer of Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership said: “We have all worked hard across Greater Manchester to prepare for winter and ensure that people receive the best care in the most appropriate place for their needs.

“This year, there are more pharmacists open late night and at weekends; and every area of Greater Manchester is offering more GP appointments throughout winter. People can now also access urgent medical help from NHS 111 online.

“As you would expect at this time of year, our hospitals are busy and we are doing our best to make sure that people are seen, assessed, treated and leave hospital as soon as they can. We would ask the general public to help us keep our emergency services free for those who need them most and use an alternative service instead.”