AS THE colder weather takes its toll on the health of the nation, we have looked into how well Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust is coping with winter pressures.

During winter, NHS England publishes weekly reports which give insight into how well hospital trusts are managing – looking at ambulance delays, bed occupancy and long stays in hospitals.

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How did Royal Berkshire Trust handle the week from December 30 to January 5?

Ambulance waits

Last week, 708 patients were brought by ambulance to A&E at the trust. The busiest day was Tuesday, when 121 patients arrived.

Over the week, 86 arrivals waited 30 minutes or more to be transferred to the emergency department – despite NHS guidelines saying all patients should be transferred within 15 minutes.

Of these, 28 patients waited an hour or longer.

The number of people arriving by ambulance last week was an increase on the previous seven days, when 693 were recorded.

Bed availability

General and acute wards at the trust were 96.1 per cent full on average last week – significantly above the 85 per cent rate the British Medical Association suggests should not be exceeded to ensure safe patient care.

The occupancy rate was higher than the 94.4 per cent recorded the previous week.

Above 92 per cent, NHS Improvement says that deterioration in A&E performance begins to accelerate.

Royal Berkshire Trust was more than 92 per cent full every day last week.

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On average, the trust had 659 beds available to use each day last week, including 27 escalation beds, which are used in emergencies and periods of high demand. Just 26 beds were free on an average day.

Long-stay patients

As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, hospital staff are being encouraged to reduce lengthy hospital stays for patients recovering from an operation or illness. NHS England says the move is aimed at improving care options and freeing up 7,000 beds nationally – the equivalent of 15 large hospitals.

On Sunday, 313 patients had been in hospital for seven days or more at Royal Berkshire Trust. They accounted for 49 per cent of all beds occupied.

Occupying 17 per cent of beds, 110 patients had been in hospital for three weeks or longer.


Norovirus, also called the winter vomiting bug, causes vomiting and diarrhoea. As it is contagious, staff can close beds in hospital wards to prevent it spreading.

When the disease was at its peak at Royal Berkshire Trust last week, nine beds were closed.

The previous week, norovirus closed up to 23 beds.

Commenting on the situation across the country's hospitals, NHS medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “A&Es across the country are currently very busy – in 2019 we treated over a million more patients in our A&Es than the previous year.

“We have got more hospital beds open than last winter, but flu has come early and is around twice as high as this time last year.

“For the public there is still time to get your flu jab, and remember to use the free NHS 111 phone and online service and your local pharmacist.

“The continued increase in people’s need for care underlines the need for more beds and staff across hospital and community services, which is why the Government’s commitment to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 and invest in new and expanded facilities will be crucial over the coming years.”

A RBH spokesperson added: “These figures clearly show the considerable pressures on our staff and services. The last few weeks have been especially tough with outbreaks of flu and norovirus adding to the day to day demands.

"We are also seeing higher volumes of sicker patients coming in for treatment which is exacerbating an already difficult situation. Our staff work extremely hard to make sure patients receive medical attention as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible. A recent CQC inspection recognised the many examples of good and outstanding care across the trust and praised our strong patient-centred culture.

"We’d ask people to help ease some of the pressure by thinking twice before turning up at the Emergency Department (A&E). There are alternatives including the 111 free telephone service, extended hours at GP surgeries weekends, the Walk in Medical Centre in Reading and local pharmacists who can provide expert healthcare advice.”