DOZENS of patients who were fit to be discharged at Barnsley Hospital were taking up beds every day last month despite contingency plans being put in place due to an anticipated shortage of beds during the winter.

The contingency document which looks into what is being planned to cope with the NHS’s busiest period of the year revealed bed occupancy is already above what is deemed an ‘optimum level’.

In August, 95 per cent of the hospital’s current 430 beds were taken, leading to the formation of a task and finish group to oversee its winter plan of action which revealed 480 are required.

The Chronicle revealed wards 36 and 37 will be used for ‘winter escalation’ purposes from this month and ward 30 which was used as a 26-bed addition last year will remain in use.

New figures from NHS England show an average of 39 beds per day were occupied by people who were ready to be discharged from the site last month.

It’s an 11 per cent increase on September’s figures.

Nationally, the average number of occupied beds has risen consistently since the summer.

Last month was the highest monthly figure since comparable data began in December last year.

David Maguire, senior analyst at health think-tank the King’s Fund, said the problem is ‘another chapter in an ongoing story’, and that the NHS continues to deal with the post-pandemic pressures and stretched budgets.

He added: “It’s not crept up on anyone and is a continuation of the pressures we have seen on social care over several years.

“The sector is hitting a tipping point.”

He explained that social care services have been cut due to reduced funding for local authorities, meaning many patients are waiting in hospitals for adequate care packages to be installed, such as home adaptions, places in care homes or community health support.

The difficulty of recruiting and retaining staff in the adult social care sector was also raised as a key issue.

Nationally, just 40 per cent of hospital patients were discharged when they were ready in October.

In Barnsley Hospital, this rose to 63 per cent down from 64 per cent in September.

The Department for Health and Social Care recently announced that an additional £500m would be spent on speeding up the release of patients from hospital.

Care minister Helen Whately said patients are pending too long in hospital due to discharge delays, and that the funding will boost the social care workforce, free up hospital beds, and reduce pressures on the NHS.

Ms Whately added: “The discharge fund will get more people cared for in the right place at the right time.”

In his autumn statement, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced an extra £2.7 billion over the next two years would be invested in adult social care services in a bid to reduce bed blocking, alongside the £500 million discharge fund.

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS trusts, added: “Nobody in the NHS wants people to be kept waiting but pressure on social care and community services means that hospitals struggle to discharge people who’re well enough to leave.

“To ease pressure on the NHS, the government must act now to fix chronic staff shortages and an underfunded social care system.”