Bed crisis has created ‘mismatch’ between NHS supply and demand

A new report from the BMA has found that a drop in overnight hospital bed spaces has created a ‘mismatch’ for NHS trusts as supply is unable to cope with the enormous stresses being placed on hospitals in the UK, particularly with regards to mental health services.

In the report, ‘State of the Health System, Beds in the NHS: UK’, it was revealed that in the first week of January this year, almost three quarters of NHS trusts had bed occupancy rates of more than 95% for at least one day of the month, as it was also found that one in seven patients waited more than four hours in A&E departments waiting for a bed last November.

The BMA found that over time from 1987-88 to 2015-16 the average number of beds had dropped from 300,000 to just under 150,000.

The report stated: “In the UK, at a time when demand for NHS care is growing, the number of beds has continued to decline significantly. Overall, the number of people attending emergency departments, and from there being admitted into hospital, is increasing.

“Increased demand, which is closely linked to the rising prevalence of long-term conditions, is coupled with a growing number of older people – the highest users of beds – who often have multiple, complex conditions, including dementia.”

The paper also looked specifically at mental health services, finding that there had been a 44% drop in beds – something which had led to “particularly acute pressures” being placed on units – on average 726 patients had to be found beds out of their areas between March and October in 2016.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said that they painted a bleak picture of a health service at breaking point.

High bed occupancy is a symptom of wider pressure and demand on an overstretched and underfunded system,” he added. “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 also pointed to the failure of social care systems to take pressure off “an already stretched and underfunded NHS”.

The report went on to recommend several measures for NHS bed plans to tackle the issue, including A&E departments planning ahead to cope with changes in population health needs, as well as additional funding and support for community care to allow patients to leave hospital and be cared for in the community.

Responding to the findings, a DH spokesperson said: “This analysis is inaccurate — the figures come from two different time periods when the way of counting beds was different, and so they aren't comparable.”

The spokesperson did admit, though, that the UK’s hospitals were “busier than ever”, adding: “But thanks to the hard work of staff, our performances are still amongst the best in the world. We have backed the NHS' own plan for the future with an extra £10billion by 2020”.

The BMA responded to the department’s criticism of the findings by saying their analysis showed that number of beds had decreased steadily in both periods.

Have you got a story to tell? Would you like to become an NHE columnist? If so, click here


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment


national health executive tv

more videos >

latest news

View all News


Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Bei... more >
Nurses named as least-appreciated public sector workers

13/06/2019Nurses named as least-appreciated public sector workers

Nurses have been named as the most under-appreciated public sector professi... more >

editor's comment

25/09/2017A hotbed of innovation

This edition of NHE comes hot on the heels of this year’s NHS Expo which, once again, proved to be a huge success at Manchester Central. A number of announcements were made during the event, with the health secretary naming the second wave of NHS digital pioneers, or ‘fast followers’, which follow the initial global digital exemplars who were revealed at the same show 12 months earlier.  Jeremy Hunt also stated that by the end of 2018 – the 70th birthday... read more >

last word

The NHS needs more senior women in leadership

The NHS needs more senior women in leadership

The gender pay gap in the NHS remains a hotly debated topic, especially as the final report from the Gender Pay Gap in Medicine Review approaches. Andrea Hester, deputy director of employment relati more > more last word articles >


NHS dreams come true for Teesside domestic

17/09/2019NHS dreams come true for Teesside domestic

Over 20 years ago, a Teesside hospital cleaner put down her mop and took st... more >

the scalpel's daily blog

An ageing population means hand care and injury prevention is more important than ever

23/08/2019An ageing population means hand care and injury prevention is more important than ever

Grey Giddins, member of the British Society for Surgery of the Hand, discusses how hand care and injury prevention have become increasingly important given the UK’s agei... more >
read more blog posts from 'the scalpel' >

healthcare events

events calendar


September 2019

mon tue wed thu fri sat sun
26 27 28 29 30 31 1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 1 2 3 4 5 6

featured articles

View all News