Fewer Shropshire hospital beds full in early days of pandemic

The number of occupied beds at Shropshire's hospitals dropped sharply during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, new figures have revealed.

Medical experts say a decrease in bed occupancy across England was partly driven by hospitals discharging patients and cancelling planned treatment to free up capacity to deal with Covid-19.

But they also raised concerns about the potential impact on patients who put off seeking help due to fear of catching the virus.

NHS data shows there were 428 overnight stays recorded at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH) – which runs Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and Telford's Princess Royal Hospital – between April and June.

It was down from 663 between January and March – a decrease of 35 per cent.

At Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital (RJAH) near Oswestry, there were 79 overnight stays between April and June, down a similar percentage from 122 in the previous three months.

The drop in bed occupancy at the hospitals was similar to the England average, where the figure fell 31 per cent to 76,300 – the lowest number on record.

Dr Nick Scriven, former president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the emptying of wards was due to several factors, including hospitals discharging patients and cancelling planned admissions.

He added: “As well as this was the well-documented move by people in general to avoid coming to hospitals at all costs, often to their detriment.”

Sarah Scobie, deputy director of research at the Nuffield Trust think tank, said the drop in numbers could be partly down to fewer people needing emergency care due to lockdown restrictions.

But the impact on patients who avoided seeking treatment due to fear of infection was yet to be seen, she said.

Ms Scobie added: “We will see bed occupancy begin to creep back up, but it will take time as the NHS is slowed down by Covid-secure and infection control measures to protect both patients and staff.”

At SaTH, the number of available beds dropped from 777 between January and March to 736 between April and June.

It dropped from 157 to 112 at RJAH.

Across England, the figure fell eight per cent to around 118,500.

Dr Scriven said this could be down to staff sickness levels meaning beds had to be closed and staff being redeployed from general areas to others.

But social distancing measures were also restricting space for beds, he added, which would be "a major worry" if admissions ramp up in the autumn.

A funding bid has also been made to NHS bosses to erect modular buildings at Shropshire’s major hospitals to be used as extra ward and theatre space.

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