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queuing theoryA theory by Danish mathematician AK Erlang (1878-1929), which he developed to determine the capacity of telephone networks. Queuing theory (QT) becomes immediately applicable to UK medical practice by substituting hospital beds for Erlang’s telephone lines, call arrival rate for admission rate into beds and average call duration for average length of stay. QT explains why average bed occupancy depends on the size and functional requirements of each specialty bed pool: whereas large hospitals in the USA and Europe have a 77–78% national average bed occupancy rate, the UK average is 87%, a rate which results in larger patient turnaway (e.g., due to queues for a bed, cancelled operations, medical patients in surgical beds), missed waiting time targets and organisational chaos manifested by increased use of antidepressants by overworked staff, increased hospital errors, cross-infection and patient deaths.
R Jones, author of a 2011 paper linking QT to the UK’s chronic bed shortage, argued that the Stafford Hospital scandal and the subsequent 400+ excess deaths were linked to the unrecognised role of excessive whole-hospital occupancy.