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Hospital beds numbers down 20% in a decade

BMA warns that high bed occupancy reveals an NHS 'at breaking point'

Mark Gould

Monday, 20 February 2017

A new BMA report State of the health system, Beds in the NHS: England reveals that the availability of overnight hospital beds in England has decreased by a fifth in a decade.

The report highlights that, across the UK, the number of hospital beds per head has fallen, at a time when demand on NHS services has increased. It also reveals that in the first week of January this year almost three quarters of trusts had an occupancy rate of 95% on at least one day of that week.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said that, as the UK already has the second lowest number of hospital beds per head in Europe, "these figures paint an even bleaker picture of an NHS that is at breaking point".

The report reveals that in England:

  • Between 2006/7 and 2015/16, the number of overnight hospital beds has decreased by a fifth.
  • In 2000, there were an average of 3.8 beds per 1,000 people. This dropped to 2.4 beds by 2015.
  • There is a mismatch between the supply and demand for beds which is causing bottlenecks in emergency departments. In November 2016, 15% of patients – almost one in seven – spent more than four hours waiting for a hospital bed.
  • The pressures on mental health services are particularly acute. There has been a 44% decrease in the number of mental health beds since 2000/01. Between March and October 2016, an average of 726 mental health patients had been given out of area placements each month.

"High bed occupancy is a symptom of wider pressure and demand on an overstretched and underfunded system. It causes delays in admissions, operations being cancelled and patients being unfairly and sometimes repeatedly let down. The delays that vulnerable patients are facing, particularly those with mental health issues, have almost become the norm and this is unacceptable," Dr Porter said.

"Failures within the social care system are also having a considerable knock-on effect on an already stretched and underfunded NHS. When social care isn’t available, patients experience delays in moving from hospital to appropriate social care settings which damages patient care and places a significant strain on the NHS.

“In the short term we need to see bed plans that are workable and focused on the quality of care and patient experiences, rather than financial targets. But in the long term we need politicians to take their heads of out the sand and provide a sustainable solution to the funding and capacity challenges that are overwhelming the health service.”

A NHS Improvement spokeswoman said: “The NHS has been under real pressure this winter, as it copes with a surge in demand for emergency services the knock-on effects are felt throughout our hospitals.

“Our hospitals are extremely busy but we are working tirelessly alongside providers to help them manage and to support more efficient use of the number of beds available.”

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