Hospital beds and NHS capacity

NHS delivers on 5,000 extra hospital bed goal

The health service has met its target of delivering an additional 5,000 permanent hospital beds this winter thanks to the “remarkable hard work” of the NHS staff across the country, according to Amanda Pritchard.

New figures show that, last week, hospitals in England had an average of 99,750 core beds in place, which is 2,000 more than the start of the year.

Last year’s urgent and emergency care recovery plan committed to an extra 5,000 beds to help pressures over winter and not rely on escalation beds.

The 5,000 figure was benchmarked against the original level of core beds planned for 2022/23 by NHS trusts – 94,500.

NHS England (NHSE) says there are now a total of 103,277 general and acute beds in place, which is over 1,800 more than this time last year.

Victoria Atkins comment

NHSE emphasises that teams up and down the country have drawn on innovation to create the new capacity. A team at Barnsley hospital, for example, refitted and refurbished two wards to make way for 38 extra beds.

A refurbishment programme at Barts Health NHS Trust’s Whipps Cross and Royal London hospitals have seen patients in the region benefit from 32 more beds too.

“We know NHS staff are working tirelessly to deliver the best possible care under real pressure,” said NHSE’s chief executive, Amanda Pritchard. “And by boosting capacity alongside other key steps in the recovery plan, we have seen improved waiting times for patients, which were better every month in 2023 than the year before.”

Pritchard continued: “But we know there is still further to go, which is why we will continue to expand these measures in the coming months.”

This all comes as demand remains high. New data for the week ending 21 January indicates that over 19 of every 20 adult beds were occupied.

While the number of people hospitalised with norovirus did decrease to an average of 438 per day last week (compared to 452 the week prior), it is still 17% higher than last year. There were an average of 3,888 Covid-19 patients in hospital last week as well.

Those who are medically fit to leave hospital but cannot also increased to an average of 14,436 – this is the largest it has been this winter and higher than any week last winter.

NHS Providers’ deputy chief executive, Saffron Cordery, said the NHS is “stretched to the limit week after week” at the moment.

"Demand for care keeps growing, especially as very cold weather and winter bugs and illnesses such as flu have affected lots of people – including NHS staff,” said Cordery.

NHSE figures show that an average of 47,468 staff were off sick each day last week.

Cordery added: “Thanks to trusts' hard work there are now 5,000 more core beds but the high level of occupancy shows we need even more investment – not just in hospitals but in mental health, community and ambulance services too – to have enough people and resources to give patients first-class care.”

Image credit: iStock

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