THE latest wave of bed closures across the county's hospitals has raised 'deep concerns' with a health watchdog, with nearly 300 beds now out of action.

'Staffing pressures' have forced a health trust to temporarily close 92 beds, along with 100 already gone as part of an NHS shake-up and almost 100 caused by ‘bed-blocking'.

Health experts have warned that crippling house prices and the trust's struggle to attract and retain staff are the catalyst behind this temporary closure.

Chairman of Healthwatch Oxfordshire Professor George Smith said: "OUH is in a very difficult situation.

"The temporary closure of 92 beds is around about seven per cent of the capacity in the hospital.

"In the board papers it says the reason for these closures are because of 'staffing pressures.'

"What of course this means is lack of nurses on the wards to be able to run them safely."

Six of the most recent closures were children's beds at the John Radcliffe Hospital and a further 29 adult beds were closed, it was revealed during yesterday's board meeting of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (OUH) directors.

The Churchill Hospital saw a cutback of 29 beds and the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre lost 28.

Last week the county's director of public health Dr Jonathan McWilliam released his tenth annual report, which showed Oxfordshire's house prices to be a significant barrier in the recruitment of staff in healthcare, with some wards running with 25 per cent vacancies.

Professor Smith added: "On the one hand I'm extremely sympathetic and supportive of the OUH as they are in a difficult situation and they are obviously doing everything they can to cope.

"But on the other hand from the public's point of view we have deep, deep concerns.

"The growth of employment is one of the things creating the problem but you are in a situation where the employers need to become part of the solution.

"What I am saying is not ground breaking or new. What we need is key worker housing, the type provided by employers such as Cadbury's and Clarks.

"There is a lesson from the past we have to re-learn."

The latest bed closures are not the first across the county’s hospitals.

In total, 110 acute beds have already been permanently removed as part of the first phase of Oxfordshire's Transformation Plan.

And during the trust's board meeting it was also revealed that 93 beds are being blocked by patients fit enough to leave hospital but who do not have the right care packages in place for when they go home - bringing the total of out-of-action beds to 295.

Chief operating officer at Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group Diane Hedges said the NHS and social care services have been working together since 2015 to tackle bed blocking.

She added: "We welcome the news that numbers fell below 100 in OUH during August this year.

"However, we also accept that these numbers are stubbornly high when compared with other areas of the country.

"Oxfordshire’s health and social care services face significant difficulties, with a shortage of home care providers and problems with recruiting and retaining care staff, due to the high costs of living in the county.

"Our ultimate aim is, of course, to have no one stranded in a hospital bed."

Secretary of the Oxfordshire branch of Keep Our NHS Public Bill MacKeith said the 'signs are not good' and more beds, rather than closures, were needed to cope with the influx of people expected to hit the county over the next 15 years.

It has been predicted an additional 183,900 residents will be in the county by 2030.

A spokesman for the trust Kaelum Neville said the 92-bed closure was due to a 'staffing issue', but the trust has not elaborated any further despite questions from the Oxford Mail.

He added: "If we do not have enough members of staff to adequately look after the number of patients then we will not open those beds.

"So we are not kicking any patients out, it is just we are not putting them in the beds in the first place."