STRETCHED staff at the John Radcliffe Hospital are constantly battling to cope with 'severely congested' wards 24 hours a day as winter looms, a new report has revealed.

The latest figures for Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH), which were discussed at a meeting of its board yesterday, show for five months its hospitals have been operating at extremely high patient numbers compared to the amount of beds and nurses available to treat them.

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Healthwatch Oxfordshire chief executive Rosalind Pearce, said the organisation was 'very concerned' about the situation, adding: "Particularly as we now enter the winter period, when pressures will only rise."

The document, which looked at how the trust was performing across its sites for September, showed the John Radcliffe and Horton General Hospital were both at 100 per cent bed occupancy – a situation that has remained unchanged since May when hospitals traditionally enjoy respite in demand.

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The recommended level is 85 per cent, with the Nuffield Trust, an independent health think tank, warning anything higher puts patients at increased risk of infection, as well as putting pressure on staff to free up beds which 'could pose a risk to patient safety'.

The trust report revealed across urgent care at OUH demand was steadily rising, with a 'significant' 12.4 per cent increase from last year.

It added the John Radcliffe was 'severely congested 24 hours a day' throughout September for adult care.

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Staffing levels, meanwhile, were described as 'very stretched', with consistently 16

beds temporarily closed due to shortages, putting even more pressure on limited resources.

The report said the trust was not projected to reach its own 92 per cent bed occupancy target until March.

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Ms Pearce said Healthwatch Oxfordshire would continue to talk with OUH, which 'has previously been very transparent' about the issue, adding: "We would like to see a clear plan showing how they intend to alleviate the pressure."

Last month, OUH jointly launched with GP surgeries, social services, paramedics, mental health providers and charities a joint strategy to handle the winter period.

It came after a system-wide winter team, based at the John Radcliffe, was set up last year following hundreds of cancelled operations and a 'black alert' issued by OUH during the winter of 2017/18.

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NHS funding has already become a key topic in the general election with Labour yesterday vowing to outspend an additional £20bn already pledged by the Conservatives on the health service.

Jacquie Pearce-Gervis, chair of support group Patient Voice, said she welcomed the national focus.

She explained: "The OUH situation is of considerable concern but I think the trust is doing everything it can. What we need is more beds and more staff and both of those come down to more money."

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Sam Foster, Chief Nursing Officer at OUH, said: “We’re very sorry that some patients have had to wait longer than we would like to be seen and, if required, admitted to a bed in our hospitals.

"This is an issue faced by hospitals up and down the country, especially as the winter months place an increased demand on health and social care services."

She said the trust was continuing to 'work hard' with health and social care colleagues and other partners like Age UK Oxfordshire to help people get treatment closer to home, and be discharged home sooner.

She added: "It’s very important to us for people to only be in hospital if they really have to be – that way, people can receive more appropriate care closer to home if they’re well enough, and those who really need urgent acute care can be treated in our hospitals.

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“This is an incredibly important time to remind people that Emergency Departments are only for urgent cases – there are several other ways that people can get medical help for less serious illnesses or ailments, including minor injury units, pharmacists, GPs, and NHS 111.

“We’re very grateful to our staff who are working extremely hard to manage the demands on our services at this difficult time."

Ms Foster added recruitment to the NHS was a national problem and OUH had a 'large range of initiatives' to aid recruitment and retention, including a successful international nurse recruitment project as well as a focus on recruiting graduating nurses and midwives from the Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery.