NURSING leaders have called for action to tackle NHS staffing shortages after “extremely worrying” figures showed some hospitals are dangerously overcrowded.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said hospitals were struggling to cope after NHS England data showed bed occupancy rates higher than the recommended safe level.

The average occupancy rate at hospitals in England was around 95 per cent last week, with rates of 100 per cent recorded by some NHS trusts.

The lowest occupancy rate at the North Cumbria NHS University Hospitals Trust - which operates the Cumberland Infirmary and the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven - between January 14 and 20 was 91 per cent and the highest 96.4 per cent.

Not only is this above the England average, it is also well above the 85 per cent safe limit recommended by experts.

Glenn Turp, regional director for RCN Northern region, said: “These figures are extremely worrying.

"Over half of the acute trusts in Cumbria and the North East have bed occupancy rates above 95 per cent. Not only is this above the England average, it is also well above the 85 per cent safe limit recommended by experts.

“Hospitals are overcrowded and overstretched, making the delivery of safe quality care very difficult and putting patients and the staff that care for them at risk.

“These figures don’t take account of the current cold snap. The situation could deteriorate further if there is a serious outbreak of flu, sending the system into crisis.

“Nursing staff are really struggling to hold the NHS together and the chronic workforce crisis with almost 41,000 nursing vacancies is exacerbating an already dire situation.

"The lack of a fully funded workforce strategy with staffing levels enshrined in law to ensure we have the appropriate number of nursing staff with the right skills has led to another winter when patients haven't received the safe, quality care they need and deserve.

“Until we have a workforce plan and staffing for safe and effective care in place, then the NHS will continue to stumble from one crisis to another."

Alison Smith, executive chief nurse at North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, said:“At this time of year we always expect to see more people attending our hospitals in line with the cold weather and we have robust plans in place to ensure we are prepared for these busier periods.

“With the introduction of Integrated Care Community hubs in north Cumbria this year, our teams in the hospital trust and in the community are working closer than ever before to ensure patients are only in a hospital bed when it is the best place for them to be.

"This is also reducing the length of time patients need to stay in hospital and the number of patients who are ready to leave hospital and are waiting for a care package is at an all-time low.

"The latest data for our performance against the 95 per cent four hour emergency care standard shows that we are 18th out of 105 trusts nationally which demonstrates that our efforts are having a positive impact.

“However, we are never complacent and know we still have further improvements to make which we are committed to delivering including building a strong nursing workforce for the future.”

The Trust also says that its staff vaccination uptake has already exceeded its target of more than 75 per cent of frontline staff.