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A geotemporal survey of hospital bed saturation across England during the first wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Bilal A Mateen, Harrison Wilde, John Dennis, Andrew Duncan, Nicholas John Meyrick Thomas, Andrew McGovern, Spiros Denaxas, Matt J Keeling, Sebastian J Vollmer

Posted 25 Jun 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.06.24.20139048

Background: Non-pharmacological interventions were introduced based on modelling studies which suggested that the English National Health Service (NHS) would be overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this study, we describe the pattern of bed occupancy across England during the first wave of the pandemic, January 31st to June 5th 2020. Methods: Bed availability and occupancy data was extracted from daily reports submitted by all English secondary care providers, between 27-Mar and 5-June. Two thresholds (85% as per Royal College of Emergency Medicine and 92% as per NHS Improvement) were applied as thresholds for safe occupancy. Findings: At peak availability, there were 2711 additional beds compatible with mechanical ventilation across England, reflecting a 53% increase in capacity, and occupancy never exceeded 62%. A consequence of the repurposing of beds meant that at the trough, there were 8.7% (8,508) fewer general and acute (G&A) beds across England, but occupancy never exceeded 72%. The closest to (surge) capacity that any trust in England reached was 99.8% for general and acute beds. For beds compatible with mechanical ventilation there were 326 trust-days (3.7%) spent above 85% of surge capacity, and 154 trust-days (1.8%) spent above 92%. 23 trusts spent a cumulative 81 days at 100% saturation of their surge ventilator bed capacity (median number of days per trust = 1 [range: 1 to 17]). However, only 3 STPs (aggregates of geographically co-located trusts) reached 100% saturation of their mechanical ventilation beds. Interpretation: Throughout the first wave of the pandemic, an adequate supply of all bed-types existed at a national level. Due to an unequal distribution of bed utilization, many trusts spent a significant period operating above safe occupancy thresholds, despite substantial capacity in geographically co-located trusts; a key operational issue to address in preparing for a potential second wave. Funding: This study received no funding.

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