Hospital beds and NHS capacity

Less than Mexico: New research reveals ‘postcode lottery’ for NHS hospital beds

England’s ‘postcode lottery’ of hospital beds has been revealed as new research commissioned by the Liberal Democrats shows that many hospitals have seen a stark fall in capacity since 2015.

The research, which was conducted through the House of Commons Library, highlighted some of the worst affected areas of the country, chiefly Homerton Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust where there are 41.4% fewer beds per 1,000 people compared to eight years ago.

This works out as less than one (0.9) bed for every 1,000th person – for reference, this is below Mexico which is the lowest ranked nation within the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

                                                                           Video credit: Canva

The cuts are mirrored in West London where Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has 33% fewer beds than in 2015.

In fact, of the 121 trusts that the library provided complete data for, 82 had seen a fall in the number of beds per person – 36% of the 121 had witnessed a drop of more than 10%.

Overall, there are 2,233 less hospitals beds in England now compared to 2015.

On a visit to Bedfordshire today, the Lib Dem’s spokesperson for health and social care, Daisy Cooper MP, will underline the situation at Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust which has just 1.7 beds per 1,000 people – well below the 2.3 averaged throughout the country.

When population is accounted for, the figures in Bedfordshire are akin to those observed in Colombia, which has the third fewest beds-per-head ratio in the OECD.

When compared to its European counterparts, the UK as a whole is also a laggard, ranking second bottom in a table of 24 countries for beds per 1,000 people.

The UK average came in at 2.4, while the average in Europe was 4.5 with Germany topping the charts with 7.8 hospital beds per 1,000 people – more than three times as many as the UK.

Despite the government’s recent pledge to fund 900 new hospital beds, the Lib Dems are calling for an expansion more in line with recommendations from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which argue that England needs an additional 8,527 beds to reach “optimum occupancy”.

Responding to the news, NHS Providers’ chief executive, Sir Julian Hartley, said: "Relentlessly high demand is putting a massive strain on the entire health service. Boosting physical capacity, including with more beds in hospitals, could go a long way to ensure the NHS better meets the needs of its patients.

"However, this is not enough by itself. We also need more community and mental health beds, as well as virtual ones that form part of the growing 'hospital at home' model. Trusts are working very hard to expand capacity but face persistent challenges including severe workforce shortages and under-investment in buildings and equipment.

"National funding and support are critical to address these issues effectively."

To access the data from the House of Commons Library, click here.

Image credit: iStock

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