How well is the Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust coping with winter pressures?

How well is the Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust coping with winter pressures?

NHS England publishes weekly reports which reveal whether hospital trusts are struggling to manage during the colder months, based on key indicators.

This is how the trust, which runs North Devon District Hospital in Barnstaple and community hospitals in Ilfracombe, South Molton, Taunton, Bideford and Holsworthy, from February 25 to March 3.

Bed Occupancy:

General and acute wards at Northern Devon Healthcare were 92.2 per cent full on average, well above the safe limit of 85 per cent recommended by health experts. The occupancy rate has remained mostly unchanged since the previous week.

British Medical Association (BMA) guidelines state ‘to ensure safe patient care, occupancy should ideally not exceed 85 per cent’. According to NHS Improvement, occupancy rates of 92 per cent and above lead to significantly worse A&E performance.

The BMA also raised concerns about the number of available beds needed to cope with winter demands.

On average, Northern Devon Healthcare had 278 available beds each day, of which 257 were in use.

Of those, 13 were escalation beds - temporary beds set up in periods of intense pressure.

According to NHS Improvement, a higher proportion of long-stay patients can impact the ability of hospitals to accommodate urgent admissions and manage bed capacity.

At Northern Devon Healthcare, 97 patients had been in hospital for a week or more, taking up almost 40 per cent of the occupied beds.

Of these, 26 patients had been in hospital for at least three weeks, making up 10 per cent of all occupied beds.


A total of 286 patients were taken by ambulance to A&E during the week. A drop in emergency arrivals compared to the previous week, when 314 patients were brought by ambulance. Just three patients waited more than 30 minutes before they could be transferred.

NHS guidance states that ambulance crews should hand patients over to A&E staff within 15 minutes of arrival.

Any delay in transferring patients leaves ambulances unable to respond to other emergencies, as well as risking their patients’ safety.

Delays affected fewer patients than the previous week, when 17 patients waited more than 30 minutes to be transferred.

Jill Canning, deputy chief operating officer at Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “These figures present a snapshot of just one busy week at our Trust, but it has been busy across the whole country for all of winter.

“We have been caring for some very poorly patients, and this is reflected in the figures for beds occupied by patients staying in hospital for more than seven days, but the Trust performs very well in having low numbers of patients in hospital for over 21 days. It has been tough, but our staff have been absolutely brilliant, and they are continuing to work really hard to care for our patients.

“It is important that patients continue to receive timely, high-quality care when our services are busy, and health services across Devon have been working closely together with social care to have plans in place for winter.

“As part of our winter plan we increased the number of beds available to care for patients, invested in additional staff, and developed new and existing ideas to help people regain their independence and get home from hospital as soon as possible. We’re pleased to see that this work has helped keep our bed occupancy below the national average, and we will continue to look at ways we can improve the experience for our patients during busy periods.

“People can reduce pressure on our emergency department by choosing the right service for their needs. This might include attending a minor injuries unit, getting advice and medication from a pharmacy, seeing your GP, and using NHS 111 by phone or online. If you have loved ones in hospital, you can help us by ensuring they have clothing, transport and supplies ready to get them home from hospital once they are ready to be discharged.”