Hundreds of children’s hospital beds have been closed to new patients amid a spike in winter respiratory viruses, new data shows.
An average of 133 children’s beds were closed last week due to respiratory virus outbreaks, more than five times the number last year.
Children’s critical care beds were almost 90 percent full according to the latest NHS data, up 7 percent from last year.
Hospitals are forced to close wards for new patients, even if some beds are empty, when they have too many patients with infectious viruses, such as RSV, and the latest figures suggest outbreaks are far worse this year compared to last.
It comes as winter virus cases in hospitals rise rapidly and put pressure on the number of free NHS beds, with flu admissions rising 40 per cent in just one week.
The figures come as new figures from the NHS show it has 133,000 vacant jobs with vacancy rates reaching a five-year high.
NHS Chief Medical Officer Stephen Powis warned: “The NHS is facing a perfect storm with rapidly rising winter virus cases coupled with continued pressures on emergency care, severely limited bed capacity, while Hospitals continue to deal with more patients coming in than going out, with thousands of patients every day in the hospital who are medically fit for discharge.”
According to public health data, the prevalence of RSV, a viral respiratory tract infection, rose to 11.7% across the UK in the week ending November 24. The highest rates were among those under five, with 33.2 percent.
The data, released by the UK Health Security Agency, shows that as of November 24, RSV hospitalizations in children under five were the highest for the entire year.
A senior pediatrician told him the independent:: “Everything has been terrible since August, the capacity has been horrible since August. Basically, it’s never going to get better.
Now, more or less practically speaking, most of the [paeditatric intensive care units] they will not be able to undergo elective surgery, because they simply will not have the capacity. But also the rooms will not have space. So it will be a real challenge to get the kids to do elective work that requires admission as an inpatient.”
She said that while it was usually difficult to continue elective childcare through the winter, this year would be worse.
The latest NHS bed figures are included in the second weekly snapshot of how hospitals are performing this season, and already suggest the pressures are worsening.
An analysis of the figures by Ben Zaranko, an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, found that the number of patients waiting in hospital beds to be discharged for more than three weeks was the highest in five years.
The data shows that 11,000 patients last week waited more than an hour in ambulances outside of A&E, while more than 13,000 patients a day were waiting to be discharged.
Nearly one in three patients who arrived at hospitals in England by ambulance last week waited at least 30 minutes to be handed over to A&E crews, new figures show.
Ambulance numbers are higher than at any point last winter and above levels reported the week before.
“Health care leaders are also concerned about the increase in the number of people hospitalized with norovirus and flu and the fact that nine out of 10 pediatric intensive care beds were full last week.
The acting head of NHS providers, Saffron Cordery, said: “To ease the ‘perfect storm’ of winter pressures, the government must take action to address chronic staff shortages. We would also encourage the government and all parties to come to an agreement quickly to avoid planned industrial action.”