UP TO 125 extra beds could be provided in Gwent hospitals during the coming winter to meet raised demand and minimise the cancellation of operations.

The provision of extra beds is a vital part of health boards’ efforts to cope with winter pressures, and while all 125 beds proposed in Gwent may not be needed, making sure they are available is a key aspect of service planning.

The process involves identifying where wards need to be re-opened to provide bed space, and planning in advance what equipment is required, and how many nursing and other staff might be needed.

It can also be an expensive business. Health boards build the cost of providing extra winter beds into their budgets, but if these need to be kept open for longer than planned – for instance, due to continued high demand into the spring, as has happened before in Gwent – then unforeseen costs can arise, running into hundreds of thousands of pounds.

A lack of beds further down the hospital system at times of high demand can cause backlogs and long waits in emergency departments for people requiring admission, though the development of medical assessment units and latterly clinical decisions units has helped in this regard.

There is also a danger that with too few beds available, those usually earmarked for surgical patients can be taken up by medical admissions through A&E at times of high demand.