NHS hospital bed numbers reach 30-year low after being halved in last three decades

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HOSPITAL bed numbers have more than halved in the last three decades, a report reveals.

The analysis from influential think-tank the King’s Fund also warns NHS plans to slash thousands more are “unrealistic”.

 NHS hospital bed numbers have more than halved in the last three decades, a report has revealed

Alamy
NHS hospital bed numbers have more than halved in the last three decades, a report has revealed

There are now 142,000 hospital spaces available, compared to 299,000 in 1988.

Experts claim with demand rising sharply, the NHS will struggle not to increase bed capacity.

Forty-four local health boards have been ordered to identify services that can be shut or merged.

Each one has now drawn up so-called “sustainability and transformation plans” – with some proposing to axe up to 44 per cent of their existing beds.

But last winter many hospitals were forced to shut their A&E doors due to a lack of ward space.

Britain already has fewer hospital beds than almost any other EU nation.

 There are now 142,000 hospital spaces available, compared to 299,000 in 1988

Alamy
There are now 142,000 hospital spaces available, compared to 299,000 in 1988

The UK comes third bottom out of 27 countries with 2.7 per 1,000 residents, with only Ireland and Sweden worse.

Bed numbers are a third of Germany’s with 8.2, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: “Bed reduction and fast turnover is a major risk to patients across the NHS.

“We have seen the majority of hospitals just about cope by squeezing length of stay to the lowest it has been but as beds shut it will become virtually impossible to safely decrease this any further.”

Theresa May promises there WILL be £8billion more to the NHS and £10bn for new buildings

Hospitals were dangerously full last winter, with bed occupancy regularly hitting 95 per cent.

Wards should never be more than 85 per cent full.

This is to give staff time to clean beds, keep infections down and be able to move patients quickly.

 Britain already has fewer hospital beds than almost any other EU nation

PA:Press Association
Britain already has fewer hospital beds than almost any other EU nation

The new study says that with hospitals already full, proposals to cut capacity are “undesirable and unachievable”.

It said alternative NHS plans to treat people in the community are insufficient.

And cuts to social care mean many older Brits are staying in hospital longer than necessary.

Report author Helen McKenna, senior policy adviser at the King’s Fund, said: “With many hospitals already stretched to breaking point, reductions on the scale we know have been proposed in some areas are neither desirable not achievable.”

 Report author Helen McKenna branded planned hospital reductions 'not achievable'

Report author Helen McKenna branded planned hospital reductions ‘not achievable’

John Kell, Head of Policy at the Patients Association, said: “The evidence presented here casts further doubt on the viability of the proposals to reduce hospital bed capacity significantly.

“Perhaps we need to move away from the assumption that service transformation means reducing acute capacity significantly below current levels, and instead think about it more in terms of improving patient experiences and outcomes.”

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