Covid: hospitals in England are getting busier as BMA warns of ‘crippling pressure’ on NHS ahead of Plan B rule change

More hospitals were potentially dangerously busy in the last week, analysis of NHS England data shows

The pressure is not letting up on hospitals despite a drop in Covid admissions
The pressure is not letting up on hospitals despite a drop in Covid admissions
The pressure is not letting up on hospitals despite a drop in Covid admissions

Hospitals in England were even busier last week, new data shows, as the British Medical Association (BMA) warns the impending end to Plan B rules is a risk to public health given “crippling pressure” on the NHS.

The doctors’ union said Boris Johnson’s announcement earlier this week that restrictions such as mandatory face masks on public transport would be scrapped risked “creating a false sense of security” which could see a rebound in infections the health service can ill afford.

NationalWorld analysis of the latest NHS England data shows hospital wards continued to be potentially dangerously busy in the week to 16 January.

Across the seven days an average of 93.2% of general and acute beds for adult patients were occupied at any given time, based on snapshots taken at 8am each morning.

That was a very slight deterioration on the 93.1% occupancy seen the week before, and far higher than what is normally considered a safe threshold of 85%.


High occupancy can compromise patient safety, making it difficult to find the right bed for patients arriving at A&E. It can even increase the risk of hospital-acquired infections.

Of the 135 acute hospital trusts, 121 had an average occupancy level higher than the 85% threshold, up from 120 the previous week.

Seven trusts ran out of beds completely on at least one occasion, an improvement on the 12 that did so the previous week.

But the worst affected, Nuneaton’s George Elliot Hospital Trust, ran out of beds on six out of seven days, the worst performance by any trust since the week ending 12 December.


General and acute beds are those for patients sent to hospital by their GP, admitted via A&E, or recovering post-surgery.

NHS England’s data also shows the number of Covid patients in adult general and acute wards continued to climb in the week to 18 January, to an average of 13,477 versus 12,912 the week before.

One in six patients on such wards were Covid-infected on average during the week.


While hospitals are always busy during the winter, the high concentration of Covid patients can cause trusts to feel the pressure at a lower capacity than they normally would, because of the need to segregate patients.

There were improvements in some other areas at hospitals last week, including a fall in the number of staff off sick and fewer ambulance delays at A&E – you can track the pressure on the NHS in our eight handy charts here.

NHS chief Professor Stephen Powis said the numbers were going “in the right direction” but that staff had “many tough months ahead”.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the decision to end Plan B rules was “clearly not guided by the data”.

The number of hospital patients of any age with Covid in England is still more than twice what they were when the restrictions were introduced, standing at 15,302 as of 20 January, compared to 6,053 on 8 December.

That has come down from a peak of 17,120 on 10 January.

“Removing all restrictions risks a rebound in the number of infections across society, would inevitably increase hospitalisation rates, further destabilise patient care and drive up the rate of staff absences and the number of people with long Covid,” Dr Nagpaul said.

“We recognise the implications of restrictions on our society, but equally we have seen the impact of the failure to control the virus on the economy, business and education.”

The Prime Minister has faced questions over the timing of the announcement, with suspicions that it was designed to diffuse pressure on him to resign over Partygate.

But Health Secretary Sajid Javid says it was based on the “very latest data” and advice from “some of the best” clinical advisors in the world.

“What they have seen in the data thankfully is we are starting to turn the situation around as a country,” he told Good Morning Britain on Thursday (20 January).

“Our advisors believe we have reached the peak of case numbers, we’ve reached the peak of hospitalisations.”

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