latest health care news

27.06.18

Two-thirds of STPs report drop in bed numbers – with some losing 20% of capacity

The number of beds available across the NHS has reduced by an average of 140 per sustainability and transformation partnership (STP) footprint since 2014-15, representing a fall of over 6,000 nationally.

Eye-watering figures published by the BMA also showed that bed numbers have dropped in 29 of 44 STP footprints in the last four years, with the largest decrease standing at 21% in Lincolnshire STP.

The 10 footprints that experienced the largest reductions in bed numbers also saw the most rapid deterioration in performance, suggesting that increasing their availability is “integral to the smooth running of the NHS.”

National performance last winter helped to strengthen this argument: bed occupancy levels rose far above recommended levels (85%) by surpassing 90% in all but four days. In total, over five hospitals’ worth of beds had to open during the cold season as some trusts saw 99 in every 100 beds full.

During NHS England’s board meeting late last month, leaders suggested that at least 4,000 extra beds are needed if the health system is to get through next winter. Despite this, the union is predicting that by 2019-20, there will be just 125,000 beds available in the NHS.

“The UK already has the second lowest number of hospital beds per head in Europe and these figures paint an even bleaker picture for the future,” said Dr Robert Harwood, BMA consultants committee chair.

On the bright side, bed numbers have actually increased in some STPs, with the largest rise standing at 22% in Dorset. All but three STPs have said that they have no plans to cut bed numbers further, in many cases showing “significant divergence” from their original plans.

But shockingly, several partnerships seemed to not have carried out any analysis whatsoever of bed capacity across their local health system, the BMA said.

Delegates at the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting passed a motion this week arguing that it is “abhorrent” that patients are being assessed and treated in hospital corridors due to a lack of beds and unprecedented demand. The paper said that the government should report on bed numbers “on a regular basis” at an STP level, as well as prioritise restoring bed capacity to a clinically appropriate level and block any further bed cut plans until key targets are met.

“Patients are already facing unacceptably long waits to be seen and the indignity of being treated in hospital corridors, and this is only set to get worse,” commented Harwood. “We urgently need the government to outline a sustainable new funding plan for the NHS to ensure that enough beds are available to meet the needs of patients.”

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