ALMOST all the beds at Great Western Hospital were full last week, as Swindon doctors and nurses geared up for winter.

Bosses at the Marlborough Road hospital said they were trying to discharge patients more quickly and a new urgent care service that opened this week would ease pressure on other wards.

Great Western Hospital was last week running at almost full capacity, with on average 96 per cent of ward beds taken by patients. It is recommended that a bed occupancy rate of 85 per cent is needed to maintain patient safety standards.

NHS England figures showed that four people were left waiting in ambulances outside the Swindon A&E for between 30 minutes and an hour. It suggests the emergency ward was slightly less busy in the first week of December 2018 than it was in the same week last year when 26 patients were left waiting more than 30 minutes to be admitted to A&E.

Leighton Day, associate director of operational performance at GWH, said: “Although winter doesn’t necessarily mean more patients, with colder weather and viruses such as flu in the mix, it certainly means we see more patients who are sicker and have more complex conditions, which means they need to be admitted into hospital. Currently around 97.7% of our beds are occupied at any one time.

“We’re doing some great work in partnership with local health and social care organisations to ensure patients can leave hospital as they are well enough, in fact Swindon is considered to be one of the best areas in the south west for discharging patients in a safe, well planned and timely way.

“Our new ambulatory care and triage service which opened this week, will help us get more patients assessed, treated and back home on the same day, meaning they don’t need to stay overnight in hospital. This winter we will also benefit from more beds in local nursing and residential homes for patients who no longer need to be cared for in hospital, but are not well enough to return home.

“In the longer term, we are looking to develop a transitional care rehabilitation facility, which will free up beds in our main hospital. This is just part of our work to ensure patients have a smooth experience of care throughout the local health and social care system.”

Nationally, commentators have warned the NHS could be heading for its bleakest winter yet. Almost 55,000 patients spent four hours or more on a trolley waiting for a hospital bed last week.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of umbrella group NHS Confederation, said: ”Hospitals are now having to operate at unsafe levels. Several are at full bed capacity and over a third are operating at 97 per cent or above bed occupancy.

“The cold, hard reality is that the NHS cannot keep pace with demand. These figures suggest we could be heading for one of the bleakest winters yet.”

Have you got a story about winter pressures at Great Western Hospital? Call the newsdesk on 01793 501806.