Critical care expansion

Page last updated: 21 October 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to be able to respond appropriately to the increase in demand for critical care services across NHS trusts.

Adult critical care was affected the most by the pandemic compared with, for example, bed occupancy in neonatal and paediatric intensive care, which remained relatively unchanged. NHS providers carried out a huge and rapid exercise to repurpose both clinical environments and staff to rapidly increase critical care capacity. This added pressure on staff and had an impact on elective treatment, as shown in the section below on NHS acute capacity.

Between April 2019 and February 2020, critical care bed capacity in NHS trusts remained steady at just over 4,000 beds available, with an average occupancy of around 3,300 beds (figure 1). By April 2020, capacity had rapidly increased. The total number of beds available peaked at 5,814 in April 2020, as the total number of beds occupied also rose.

In January 2021, when infection rates were high, occupancy reached its highest levels, with an average of 4,837 beds occupied. This exceeded the average number of beds available before April 2020, indicating the increased requirement for critical care support at this time. It also shows the NHS’s ability to expand its critical care capacity to respond to needs of the patient population at a time of crisis.

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