The NHS has lost more than 6,000 beds across the country over the last four years, according to new figures published by the British Medical Association (BMA).
The doctor’s union is warning that under-resourcing in hospitals is already hampering patient care and that the situation looks set to deteriorate further, with current projections suggesting that by 2019/20 there will be just 125,000 beds in the NHS.
The Association’s analysis has revealed that beds have reduced by an average of 140 per Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) footprint since 2014/15, and that all but three said they have no plans to reduce bed numbers, “in many cases showing significant divergence from their original plans”.
There are 44 STP footprint areas across England developing five-year plans for the future of health and care services in their area.
However, according to the BMA, several appear not to have carried out any analysis of bed capacity across their health system, and yet the 10 STP footprints that experienced the greatest cut in bed numbers also saw the most rapid deterioration in performance.
Noting that last winter was “the worst in the history of the NHS in England”, the group said bed occupancy levels remained above 90 percent for all but four days, when the accepted safe limit is 85 percent, and that NHS leaders themselves have indicated that a minimum of 4,000 extra beds are needed if the health system is to get through next winter.
“These figures should act as a wakeup call to politicians. Having enough beds is integral to the smooth running of the NHS - this is clear from our analysis which shows that those parts of the country that have lost the most beds have also seen their performance deteriorate faster,” said Dr Robert Harwood, BMA consultants committee chair.
“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.
The Association is now calling on the government to report on bed numbers on a regular basis at an STP level, as well as prioritise restoring bed capacity in the NHS to a level considered appropriate by clinicians.
“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. 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,” Harwood stressed.