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Experts predict huge need for more hospital beds

17,000 more hospital beds needed by 2022

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 06 October 2014

The NHS will need around 17,000 more hospital beds by 2022 to cope with rising demand from patients, according to health think tank the Nuffield Trust.

The think tank has published a briefing paper NHS hospitals under pressure: trends in acute activity up to 2022 today in which it reveals the scale of likely future pressures on hospitals.

More intermediate services provided in the community will be vital to allow the acute sector to survive and cope with demand as well as closer working with GPs.

The Nuffield Trust’s analysis, carried out for the Financial Times newspaper, found that hospital admissions grew by 2 million (16%) over the past seven years, largely due to an ageing and growing population.

If admissions continued to rise by that scale, population change alone would mean 6.2 million additional bed days (overnight stays) would be needed by 2022, which is the equivalent of 17,000 additional beds or 22 hospitals with 800 beds each.

These pressures would amount to around a quarter of the £30bn funding gap facing the NHS, so to avoid this scenario from happening, improvements would be needed to reduce the length of time for which patients were admitted to hospital.

Despite the 16% rise in admissions between 2006-7 and 2012-13, the NHS has managed with fewer hospital beds, said the authors, thanks to changes in the types of admission and significant reductions in the length of time people stayed in hospital.

Two-thirds of the overall increase in admissions during this period was driven by day-cases or short stays for investigations and diagnosis; and admissions lasting longer than a month were reduced by 13%.

This showed that there had to be significant change in the way care is delivered in the future to manage the growing pressures on hospital beds.

Changes could include:

  • more care provided in the community
  • better use of services that enable day-surgery and improved arrangements for discharging patients into their communities
  • improve the way that all departments and services outside hospitals including GP practices work together to speed up patients’ discharge.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, and one of the authors of the paper, said: “The pressures on hospitals are immense, and this analysis suggests that demographic change looks set to be the most significant driver of pressures on NHS capacity in the future.

“But even if building several more hospitals were affordable, this wouldn't be the right answer – hospital isn’t always the right place for frail older people. So we should look closely at alternative solutions first.

“History shows we can manage rising admissions by carefully reducing the time people spend in hospital. This requires excellent and coordinated care in the community. But this too costs money.”

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