Published: 06:00, 17 January 2020
| Updated: 12:33, 17 January 2020
The number of patients admitted to hospitals in Kent has risen by more than 27,000 in five years, figures reveal.
The news comes as we reveal how patients in the county are suffering due to a shortage of GPs.
In Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells alone the number rose by 338 every week compared to 2014/15 - the biggest increase of all the county's hospital trusts.
NHS Digital data shows 121,295 patients were admitted to hospitals run by the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust (MTW) in 2018/19.
The number of patients at MTW was up 17,569 on what it was during 2014/15 – the equivalent of an extra 338 every week.
Health experts say there is an “urgent need” for more staff to address a surge in demand in the NHS, driven in part by the increasing number of people living with complex long-term conditions.
In Medway, there was a rise of 189 more patients a week - with 82,260 admitted compared to 72,248 five years ago - while Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust was seeing 175 extra, with admissions up to 89,155 from 80,065 in 2014/15.
An increase was also seen at Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, with admissions rising from 2,911 to 3,060, though a spokeswoman clarified that the trust is commissioned to provide a certain numbers of beds, which has not changed over the time period.
However, there were decreases in admissions at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, with 173,780 in 2018/19, down from 182,964 in 2014/15, and 2,315 at the Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, down from 2,432.
Richard Murray, chief executive of health think tank the King’s Fund, said the evidence suggested a decades-old policy of reducing the number of hospital beds had “gone too far”, with more funding and capacity now needed.
He said: “Critically, if the NHS is to open more hospital beds it will need more people to staff them, but the NHS is already in the grips of a major workforce crisis.
“A credible plan to increase staff numbers is urgently needed. Even then, it will take time to stabilise services and in the meantime patients will unfortunately have to continue waiting longer to receive the care that they need.”
The biggest increase at the MTW was among emergency cases, which rose by 37% over the five-year period.
A spokeswoman said a growing and ageing population contributed to the rise but that the trust is in the country’s top 20 best-performing for emergency department waiting times.
She added: “We have also put in place a number of innovative measures and improvements in our hospitals to help us treat people at the right time in the right place.
"This includes working with our community providers to reduce ED attendances by enhancing services to treat more patients at home; increasing the time our hospital assessment units are open to support our older frail patients; and introducing more GP hours within our EDs, which has freed up time for senior clinicians to see the sickest patients more quickly.
“A new Acute Assessment Unit is also due to open at Maidstone Hospital in the coming weeks.”
A spokesman for East Kent Hospitals said long-stay admissions were increasing because of more patients with complex needs but short-stay admissions were actually on the way down and also pointed to using technology to monitor patients at home.
A spokeswoman for the Medway trust said the figures were indicative of a wider, national issue, while Pauline Butterworth, Chief Operating Officer at Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust said the figures were skewed by contract changes, in that inpatient services are no longer operated at Gravesham, Sheppey or Sittingbourne community hospitals, so the 2014/15 data came from a bigger bed base.
She added: "We are supporting the healthcare system, as a whole, by providing more community care and avoiding admission into main (acute) hospitals.
"We also support by providing our beds so people can be discharged from amain hospital into one of ours to continue their recovery."
Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust was contacted for comment.
More by this authorTom Pyman