Page last updated at 15:39 GMT, Thursday, 6 December 2012

Government queries NHS bed occupancy figures

The government is struggling to reconcile figures on bed occupancy used in a report showing NHS hospitals are dangerously full, a health minister has said.

According to the Dr Foster hospital guide, patient safety is being risked because hospitals are "full to bursting", with many regularly breaching the 85% limit put in place to protect patients.

The experts said occupancy in 2011-12 was running at 88% in midweek, averaging 90% for 11 of the 12 months, excluding quiet periods such as Christmas.

Raising the matter at question time on 6 December 2012, Labour peer Lord Turnberg said the figures showed "the stress our hospitals are operating under".

"With bed occupancy of 95% to 100% for much of the year for many of the hospitals, there are too often no beds available, staff are rushed off their feet, patients are not cared for properly, infection rates rise and mistakes occur," he said.

But Health Minister Earl Howe pointed to data from his department which showed "the average bed occupancy rate for all beds open overnight had remained stable between 84% and 87% since 2000". The figures showed hospitals were "making efficient use of beds".

Referring to the Dr Foster figures, he added: "We're looking closely at their analysis and methodology, but we can't agree with their conclusions at the moment."

He said the Department of Health monitored the position on a daily basis during winter.

Other questions to the government covered the UK-Israel Life Sciences Council, the Department of Health's unspent budget for the 2010/11 and 2011/12 and the reconfiguration of NHS hospital services.

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