Hospital rooms exceeded their safe capacity at Wigan’s hospitals during the final three months of last year, new figures show.
Doctors say this winter has put more strain than usual on the NHS, warning that high bed occupation rates could lead to operations being cancelled.
NHS England data shows that, on average, 412 out of 476 beds were occupied during the period.
It is a rate of 86 per cent, above the threshold of 85 per cent, when patient safety is considered to be compromised.
It is higher than five years earlier, when bed occupancy reached 84 per cent.
Health bodies said the overnight numbers may underestimate the reality, because the count is taken at midnight, not the busiest time in a hospital.
The data covers patients under the care of a consultant, but excludes critical care cases and those being attended by nurses. Cots for babies are also excluded.
Most of the beds in the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL), 448, were reserved for patients with general and acute illnesses, such us pneumonia or kidney stones. The rate of occupancy for these beds was 88 per cent.
Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, which represents all trusts, said: “High levels of bed occupancy put pressure on staff.
“They stretch services, meaning some patients may wait longer for a bed, and impact hospitals’ ability to deal with unpredictable events or seasonal pressures.
Addressing the situation across England, she added: “This winter has seen very high demand for urgent and emergency care, with more patients arriving at hospital by ambulance, and a peak bed occupancy rate of 95.2 per cent.
“However, high bed occupancy is now an all-year event rather than just confined to the winter months.”
Nationally, 88 per cent of beds were occupied between October and December, compared with 86 per cent five years earlier.
Dr Simon Walsh, the British Medical Association’s lead for emergency medicine, said: “When bed occupancy levels go beyond the recommended safety levels, patient care can be compromised as there is a greater risk of infection and hospitals are less able to cope with spikes in demand creating a backlog in the system.
“This can result in delays to patients receiving the care they need and, as we have seen repeatedly, the situation can very quickly escalate.”
Prof Neil Mortensen, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said overcrowded hospitals can lead to last minute cancellations of operations.
He added: “High bed occupancy rates make it difficult to contain the flu and vomiting bugs that become more prevalent in the winter months.”
WWL declined to comment on the 2018 figures.
However, as the Post’s weekly reports on strains on the hospital system locally have revealed, the situation has been much more severe in the first weeks of this year.
General and acute wards at WWL were 96 per cent full on average during the week February 25 to March 3, well above the safe limit of 85.
The figure has been on or above 96 per cent for several weeks in a row now.
On average, the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Trust had 448 available beds each day, of which 429 were in use.
Of those, 29 were escalation beds - temporary beds set up in periods of intense pressure, often in corridors or day care centres.
Some 170 patients had been in hospital for a week or more, taking up 40 per cent of the occupied beds.
Of these, 40 patients had been in hospital for at least three weeks, making up nine per cent of all occupied beds.