Community hospitals in the Borders ran at between 82% and 96% occupancy last year and at Borders General Hospital some wards were averaging 95-98% occupancy.
Outgoing president of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, Dr Neil Dewhurst, said evidence shows that 85% is “the maximum safe level at which we can treat patients”.
That would put elderly medicine wards and general medical wards at Borders General Hospital in the danger zone 12 months of the year; Hawick Cottage Hospital was over the 85% ‘safe level’ 11 months of the year, Kelso Hospitals for 12 months, Haylodge, Peebles eight months of the year and The Knoll, for four months.
The figures, released under Freedom of Information to Conservative MSP John Lamont, show that bed occupancy at The Knoll, Duns, ranged from 71% in May and June last year up to 97% in February this year.
Last year NHS Borders consulted with the public about its clinical services and followed that up by announcing they a review of all services, starting with community hospitals.
Explaining the reason for the review NHS borders chairman, John Raine said it was “to look at the way all our in-patient services are used and how community hospitals work as part of the whole system of healthcare alongside other health and social care services in the community”.
Responding to the latest occupancy figures, Sheena MacDonald, NHS Borders medical director, said: “People in the Borders are hopefully now aware that we are testing each of our services against the key principles outlined in our clinical strategy.
“One of those principles is that our services will be safe, effective and of high quality. We can always do better for our patients and there are challenges ahead that will require different thinking.
“So, that’s why we are preparing to review all of our clinical services – beginning with a review of inpatient services.
“One of our improvement aims is to reduce our occupancy levels through avoiding unnecessary admission and supporting more timely care nearer home. Community hospitals are an integral and important part of this.
“Our staff are working hard in our A&E department, in our intensive care unit, in our department for the elderly, in all of our services in the communities, like GPs, therapists and community nurses, to support the increasing demand on our services and, this winter, an increase in admissions.
“Our staff are excellent and I can but support them as we move forward on our review and on our improvement plans for those at the heart of our services, our patients.”