In many cases, data on hospital capacity and occupancy are not easy to find or interpret. To help users, we’ve examined a range of outputs to see if we can answer some straightforward questions that we have been asked about. We’ve summarised the position for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and provided some links to more published data.

Why are data on NHS hospital capacity and occupancy important?

Pressure on the NHS is a key aspect of decisions on restrictions. For example,¬†in England one of the¬†factors¬†supporting decisions on which tier each local area should be placed in is: pressure on the NHS ‚Äď including current and projected (3 to 4 weeks out) NHS capacity ‚Äď including admissions, general/acute/ICU bed occupancy, staff absences.

In Scotland¬†‚Äúcurrent and projected future use of local hospital beds, compared with capacity‚Ä̬†is listed as one of the¬†indicators¬†informing Local Protection levels.¬†While Wales and Northern Ireland do not have the same local area approach and indicators, hospital capacity is also¬†cited as a key factor in decisions for both¬†administrations.

Can I find out how occupied the NHS hospitals are in my country?

Yes, but I have to perform calculations on the Urgent and Emergency Care Daily Situation Reports published by NHS England.

Can I find out what proportion of hospital admissions are because of COVID-19 or if the primary reason for admission to hospital was for something else?

No.

Can I find out what proportion of hospital beds are occupied by people being treated for COVID-19 disease compared with the proportion occupied by those who are not being treated for COVID-19 disease?

No, but I can find the ratio of patients in hospital who have a positive COVID-19 test compared to those who have not tested positive for COVID-19 by performing calculations on the monthly COVID-19 Hospital Activity workbooks published by NHS England. It is not currently possible to find out the number of people in hospital in England being treated primarily for COVID-19.

Where may I find other information on hospitals in England during the COVID-19 pandemic?

NHS Digital publishes Hospital Episode Statistics for Admitted Patient Care and Outpatient Data. View the latest data about hospital activity by consultant speciality and type of admission for April to October 2020.

Can I find out how occupied the NHS hospitals are in my country?

Yes, by accessing the COVID-19 Daily Dashboard, published by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, this information is clearly visible.

Can I find out what proportion of hospital admissions are because of COVID-19 or if the primary reason for admission to hospital was for something else?

No.

Can I find out what proportion of hospital beds are occupied by people being treated for COVID-19 disease compared with the proportion occupied by those who are not being treated for COVID-19 disease?

No, but by accessing the COVID-19 Daily Dashboard, published by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, I can see the percentage of hospital beds occupied by people testing positive for COVID-19 and the percentage of hospital beds occupied by people in hospital with other problems.

Where may I find other information on hospitals in Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland publishes Hospital Episode Statistics.

Can I find out how occupied the NHS hospitals are in my country?

Yes, I can find percentage bed occupancy by quarter in the publication Acute Hospital activity and NHS beds published by Public Health Scotland (PHS), but I cannot find daily bed occupancy information.

Can I find out what proportion of hospital admissions are because of COVID-19 or if the primary reason for admission to hospital was for something else?

No.

Can I find out what proportion of hospital beds are occupied by people being treated for COVID-19 disease compared with the proportion occupied by those who are not being treated for COVID-19 disease?

No, but I can find the proportion of hospital beds occupied by people testing positive for COVID-19 by using the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 daily statistics and the quarterly acute hospital activity data published by PHS.

Where may I find other information on hospitals in Scotland during the COVID-19 pandemic?

PHS publishes data on hospital admissions by week in the wider impacts dashboard.

Can I find out how occupied the NHS hospitals are in my country?

Yes, but I have to perform calculations on the NHS activity and capacity data published by Welsh Government.

Can I find out what proportion of hospital admissions are because of COVID-19 or if the primary reason for admission to hospital was for something else?

Yes, but I have to perform calculations on the NHS activity and capacity data published by Welsh Government.

Can I find out what proportion of hospital beds are occupied by people being treated for COVID-19 disease compared with the proportion occupied by those who are not being treated for COVID-19 disease?

Yes, but I have to perform calculations on the NHS activity and capacity data published by Welsh Government.

Where may I find other information on hospitals in Wales during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The Welsh Government publishes a weekly release of information on NHS Activity and Capacity.

Issues with current data

Timeliness

Whilst the producers are responding to user needs as fast as data collections allow, there is still a need for more timely, granular data which supports individuals and policy makers to fully understand the impact of the pandemic, including why people attended hospital, the various hospital capacity and occupancy levels.

The producers have told us about plans to release more granular data, for example, statistics about the diseases for which people were admitted. We would like producers to share these plans with users.

Data gaps

Wales is the only administration which publishes information on the number of patients hospitalised because of COVID-19 disease and those in hospital primarily for a different reason. Information on the number of people in hospital who have a positive test result is more generally available, but they may not be being treated for COVID-19. Whilst this is an important indicator for managing hospitals, it does not provide clarity on the instances of COVID-19 which are serious enough to require hospitalisation and treatment, or instances of other diseases that require hospitalisation.

Accessibility

Some of the historic hospital capacity and occupancy data collections have been suspended. In some instances, replacement data are available, but not readily accessible. For example, we found that the workbooks published by NHS England provide valuable data but the insight they can offer is limited because they are difficult to find and hard for non-experts to interpret. We would like to see better signposting to the various sources of data to improve accessibility.

Insight

Comparability to previous years’ NHS capacity or occupancy data is understandably limited, due to NHS re-configurations to reduce the spread of coronavirus SARS-Cov-2 and staffing challenges, due to illness and self-isolation. Data workbooks, whilst transparent, are not helpful for the less-expert user and we would suggest that NHS England, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government interpret their outputs and provide more insightful commentary on the question of NHS hospital bed use.

Conclusion

Now the NHS has been offering a range of urgent and non-urgent care, there is a need for more timely data on hospital activity and occupancy covering a wider range of reasons for admission, other than testing positive for COVID-19. We are asking producers to consider ways of plugging this data gap, providing better signposting to the data and developing more insightful commentary to give users a clearer understanding of how the NHS is coping with the pandemic.