Are there enough intensive care beds available for children this winter?

It’s not just adults who are affected by the current situation in the NHS – children are too. In this chart of the week, Liz Fisher looks at how many intensive care beds are available for children across the whole of England this winter.

Chart of the week

Published: 18/01/2023

Reporting of NHS winter pressures usually focuses on adults, but children are affected too. In this chart of the week, we look at paediatric intensive care beds, which are used for the treatment of severely ill children.

Between 3 December and 8 January, on average per day there were 314 paediatric intensive care beds in hospitals with major A&E departments across the whole of England. This is slightly higher than the average numbers available over the same period in previous recent winters.

Despite this, occupancy rates were consistently higher during this period. On average per day, 89% of these beds were occupied – leaving an average of just 35 beds, across the whole country, available for new admissions.

Having very low numbers of these kinds of beds available means that it doesn’t take a lot to overwhelm this service, and makes it vulnerable to spikes in the numbers of very ill children.


These are also unlikely to be evenly spread out across the country, and some areas at times may not have had any of these beds available. This means that severely ill children potentially would have been moved to different parts of the country for treatment, or be treated in adult intensive care units. Neither is optimal for the child and will be distressing for the family.

The occupancy levels so far this winter will have been strongly influenced by the increased circulation of flu and respiratory syncytial viruses – resulting in peaks in hospitalisation and intensive care unit admissions for children with these conditions, particularly for those under five years old – as well as scarlet fever and invasive group A streptococcal infection (Strep A).

And while these seem to have peaked in the last couple of weeks of 2022, what impact will the return to school and childcare in the new year have on the levels of these infectious diseases, and what will be the consequences for children and young people’s emergency and urgent care?

Data notes

Please note that this does not capture all paediatric critical care capacity. Data on paediatric intensive care beds are critical care beds at level 3, also known as advanced critical care beds. These are reported on in the paediatric intensive care beds within the raw data. Paediatric intermediate critical care are critical care beds at level 2, and are reported on in the paediatric general and acute (G&A) beds within the raw data.

For comparability across the years, the data only represents bed availability in hospitals with type 1 A&E departments. This is because prior to week ending 20 December 2020 the data did not include 13 acute trusts that did not have A&E departments. A type 1 A&E department is a consultant led 24-hour service with full resuscitation facilities and designated accommodation for the reception of accident and emergency patients.