A UNION leader has blamed “under-investment for years” in nursing staff for Rotherham Hospital coming under “severe pressure”.
Glenn Turp, regional director for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said staff shortages and a spike in admissions meant wards were at "bursting point".
The hospital’s deputy chief executive, Chris Holt, admitted staff were "very busy treating patients with urgent care needs".
New figures from NHS England show that Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust beds were 93.3 per cent occupied on Christmas Day, 97.6 per cent on Boxing Day and 98.8 per cent on New Year’s Eve - well above a recommended safe level of 85 per cent.
The numbers also show how many beds had to be closed on different dates, due to an outbreak of norovirus.
Rotherham Hospital topped the table of short-staffed Yorkshire trusts, with 57 beds closed on Christmas Day, 48 on Boxing Day and 54 on New Year’s Eve and a total 307 beds unavailable between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
Last week, Rotherham followed NHS orders to postpone all non-urgent operations scheduled up to the end of January due to the pressure on the healthcare system.
Mr Turp (pictured below) said: “It’s very clear that the NHS, and hospitals in particular, are operating under severe pressure.
“Trusts across Yorkshire are at bursting point, with over 90 per cent of beds being used by many hospitals.
“A lack of beds for new patients is a major factor but it’s simply impossible for trusts to open extra beds without the nurses to staff them and care for patients.
“Nursing staff are struggling to hold the NHS together and the situation continues to get worse with increasing demand from an ageing population and a severe nursing recruitment and retention problem.”
He added: “The RCN has been warning of under-investment in nursing staff for years.
“We cannot continue to rely on the enormous goodwill and commitment of staff to keep the system going.”
The figures also show that patients in ambulances faced delays of half an hour or more when being handed over to hospitals on several days over the holiday period.
Although Christmas Day saw no such delays, nine Boxing Day handovers at Rotherham Hospital were delayed by 30 to 60 minutes and one by over an hour.
The problem peaked on December 28, when 11 handovers were delayed by 30 to 60 minutes and 16 by over an hour.
Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable condemned delays around Yorkshire, saying: “Ministers refused to provide the funding top NHS officials said was necessary and now patients are paying the price.”
The hospital’s Mr Holt said: “It is widely recognised that the demands on health services over winter months have continued to increase over recent years.”
He said planning had taken place to reduce the pressure, adding: “This includes the opening of extra beds when required.”
Mr Holt urged people to treat for colds, flu and sickness themselves at home and take advice from pharmacists and GPs to avoid going to hospital.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Our NHS was recently ranked as the best and safest healthcare system in the world.
“The Government is supporting it this winter with an additional £437 million, as well as £1 billion extra social care funding this year.”