Number of occupied hospital beds dropped by 43 per cent during lockdown in Milton Keynes

The number of occupied beds at the Milton Keynes University Hospital Trust dropped sharply during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, new figures reveal.
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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 just 265 overnight stays recorded at Milton Keynes University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust between April and June, down from 461 between January and March – a decrease of 43 per cent.

Bed occupancy dropped sharply at MK hospitalBed occupancy dropped sharply at MK hospital
Bed occupancy dropped sharply at MK hospital

This drop in bed occupancy was more pronounced than 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.”

In Milton Keynes University Hospital Trust, the number of available beds dropped from 530 between January and March to 430 between April and June.

Across England, the figure fell 8 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.