Scores of patients in hospitals in Bristol and Weston-super-Mare are medically fit but cannot be discharged due to a shortage of community carers.
Hospital boss Robert Woolley apologised for the resulting delays and cancellations and appealed for the public to play its part by accessing care wisely.
The University Hospitals Bristol and Weston Trust declared an internal critical incident in October, with unprecedented demand for urgent care and the poor flow out of hospital continuing to affect performance.
More than half of all ambulance handovers were delayed by more than 30 minutes – worse than at any other time during the pandemic – and almost 600 patients waited on trolleys for more than 12 hours before they were treated.
At the end of October, some 187 patients had been left waiting more than two years for treatment - although most were lower clinical priority and deemed safer to wait longer.
Updating the hospital trust board on November 30, chief executive Mr Woolley said: “Our A&E department is at pre-pandemic levels but we’re finding that patients are presenting later than they would have done so their conditions are potentially more serious and complex, and our capacity is severely constrained.
“We’ve got five per cent of beds occupied by Covid-infected patients. Crucially, we’ve got about 20 per cent of our beds occupied by patients who are medically fit for discharge. They don’t need to still be in a hospital bed.”
At the end of October, there were 97 patients medically fit for discharge in the trust’s Bristol hospitals and 48 at Weston General.
“This is creating significant delays for patients trying to come into hospital, it’s creating cancellations,” added Mr Woolley.
“I can only apologise to the public for the consequences for those people unable to access care in the timely fashion we want to give it.
“The reason our beds are occupied in the way they are is largely because of workforce shortages in the community and social care.
“While we’re working extremely hard with our partners to find mitigations inside and outside our hospitals, we’re constrained by the lack of staff in those sectors.
“We’re facing the unknown impact of Covid this winter, particularly in light of the new omicron variant. We don’t know how influenza is going to play out. We expect winter to be difficult anyway, as it always is.
“Our ask of the general public is to continue to access the care you need but do so wisely, make use of NHS 111, only use emergency departments for serious injury or illness. We ask for your understanding about the delays and the pressures on our staff.
“It’s not the fault of our staff that your care may be delayed. Please be kind to our staff who are pressured and who are trying to help you.”
Credit: Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy reporter