The number of NHS hospital beds in England has more than halved over the past three decades – and experts warn more are to be lost.
A report by the King’s Fund health think-tank warns the number of NHS beds for every 1,000 people in the country is lower than the equivalent figure in almost all other leading economies.
The number of beds has fallen from 299,000 in 1987/88 to 142,000 in 2016/17, while the number of patients has soared.
The number of hospital beds in Britain has fallen from 299,000 in 1987 to 142,000 this year
The report cites data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which put the UK at 29th out of 35 leading countries on beds.
It found Britain in 2015 had just 2.6 hospital beds per 1,000 people, compared with Japan at 13.2, Russia at 8.5, Germany at 8.1 and France at 6.1.
The King’s Fund said NHS England’s flagship schemes to shake up the service – known as sustainability and transformation plans or STPs – have set out proposals to cut beds even further.
Last winter, hospitals declared major alerts and closed A&E doors, with an average of more than 90 per cent of beds full. Anything over 85 per cent raises the risk of infection and is considered unsafe.
The report warns proposals in some areas to cut beds are ‘neither desirable nor achievable’ .
A new report cites data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which put the UK at 29th out of 35 leading countries on beds
The reduction in beds over the past 30 years is partly because more mental health patients are cared for in the community and patients generally need to spend less time in hospital than in the past, the report adds.
Helen McKenna, one of the authors, said: ‘There are opportunities to make better use of existing beds … But 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.’
Dr Nick Scriven, of the Society for Acute Medicine, said: ‘We have seen the majority of hospitals just about cope by squeezing length of stay … but as beds shut it will become virtually impossible to safely decrease this any further.’
An NHS England spokesman said: ‘Hospitals have said they are planning to open up more than 3,000 extra beds this winter … work is underway to free up to 3,000 more by improving the availability of community health and social care.
‘We have also introduced an explicit test to prevent inappropriate bed closures.’