The number of available beds at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust has risen slightly over the last few months, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

But NHS Providers has warned the health service is facing a "real problem" across England, as the number of beds open to patients is still well below last year's figures.

NHS data shows an average of 857 beds were available overnight at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust between July and September.

This was an increase of 4% on the 827 average between April and June, and also higher than the 849 available during the same period in 2019.

Across England, the average number of available beds fell to 120,828 between July and September, 5% down from the total during the same period last year – though none of these figures include critical care patients.

It was the second-lowest figure on record, after April to June's record low, of 118,510.

The King's Fund said the latest data release covers the summer months when hospitals were recovering from the first wave of the pandemic and preparing for the second.

David Maguire, senior analyst at the think tank, added: "Many hospitals were operating separate units for Covid and non-Covid patients, so staff were stretched more thinly and unable to safely staff as many beds overall.

"It’s one thing to have physical beds available, but staff are the real limiting factor when it comes to actually using them."

Professor Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said hospitals are usually able to use all the beds they have available – but cautioned "we're not in normal times".

NHS Providers, the membership organisation for the hospital, mental health, community and ambulance services, said it has been arguing for some time that the health service is short of beds heading into winter.

It said this was in part because of ongoing staffing pressures.

Deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery added: “This is a real problem as trusts deal with pressures posed by the virus, growing demand for urgent and emergency care and the work to recover the backlog of routine operations.

“That is why the current lockdown restrictions are crucial in protecting that stretched capacity, so the NHS is able to provide care for everyone who needs it.”

In Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust, the average number of occupied overnight beds increased from 827 between April and June, to 857 between July and September.

The number of occupied beds across England rose by 22% over this period to 93,091 – again the second-lowest figure on record.

An NHS spokesman said the enhanced infection prevention and control measures to protect patients mean some beds cannot be used.

He added: “This means that trying to compare current occupancy figures with those from before the pandemic is like comparing apples and pears and does not reflect the very real pressures that hospitals are seeing due to rising numbers of patients with Covid-19, which is why it’s so important we all continue to follow the government guidelines and help stop the spread of the virus.”

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