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Surge in Christmas patients puts strain on hospital beds

A surge in the number of patients over the Christmas break forced managers at St Bernard’s Hospital to roll out extra beds to meet demand.

The seasonal pressures struck during the festive period with the GHA executive team stating hospital staff had to enact procedures to deal with the pressures on bed availability.

The strain on beds is a persistent issue the GHA has been grappling with for some time now, as many beds are taken by elderly long stay patients and those with dementia.

In the run-up to Christmas, some patients had to wait for hours on beds in the Accident and Emergency until space was available on hospital wards.

Hospital managers say bed management meetings held in coordination with sister and charge nurses have since addressed the immediate problem.

“There has been a temporary surge in bed admissions over the last few days and the GHA has enacted procedures to address this increase in admissions,” a spokesman told the Chronicle over the Christmas break.

“The longest a patient has had to stay in A/E has been 12 hours. However, this has been in a proper hospital bed and with the appropriate nursing care and not on a stretcher.”

“The GHA confirms that there are beds available as a result of a rolling discharge process.”

Spikes in demand for hospital beds are nothing new for GHA managers.

Continued pressure on bed occupancy has meant St Bernard’s Hospital has routinely missed bed occupancy targets set out in UK-based guidelines.

The guidelines, which are laid out by the UK’s Department of Health but are adhered to locally, state hospitals should aim for bed occupancy levels of no higher than 85%.

In Gibraltar, these guidelines have been met just three times between January 2011 and April 2016, the last month for which data is publicly available.

The most recent statistics set out in a report to the GHA Board last September show a trend of high occupancy during late 2015 and early 2016 up to April.

During this time occupancy varied between 101% and 111%, resulting in persistent bed overflow.

Historical bottle necks lay to blame, according to the report, and these issues continue to sporadically delay the discharge process and affect patient flow and bed availability.

In April 2016 dementia and elderly long stay patients took up 48% of beds.

A further 22% were used by complex discharges, which left just 30% of beds for acute care.

That same month 13 surgeries were cancelled due to bed unavailability.