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NHS Hospital Bed Crisis

As the government scurries around to find the pledged extra funding for the NHS, sober news today demonstrates the devastating consequences of systematic underfunding over the past eight years.

Over 6000 beds lost in last four years

New figures published today by the British Medical Association (BMA) shows that the NHS has lost more than 6000 beds across the country over the last four years, and the British Medical Association (the doctor's union) are warning that under-resourcing in hospitals is hampering patient care. These warning are not new. They have been given before as previous Thin End posts have shown.

But the figures presented today are a stark reminder of an NHS in crisis and struggling valiantly to meet demands.

New BMA analysis reveals that:

Beds have reduced by an average of 140 per Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) footprint since 2014/15 – a fall of over 6000 at a national level;

Bed numbers have decreased in 29 of 44 STP footprints since 2014/15;

The largest decrease in bed numbers amongst STP footprints was 21 per cent1;

Bed numbers have increased in some STPs - the largest increase was 22 per cent

The 10 STP footprints that experienced the largest reduction in bed numbers also saw the most rapid deterioration in performance;

All but three STPs have said they have no plans to reduce bed numbers, in many cases showing significant divergence from their original plans;

Several STPs appeared not to have carried out any analysis of the bed capacity across their health system;


Projections suggest that by 2019/20, there will be approximately only 125,000 beds in the NHS.

Worst winter in NHS history

Last winter was the worst in the history of the NHS in England, with A&E departments struggling to cope in the face of enormous demand, limited capacity and with bed occupancy levels being over 90 per cent for all but four days3.

Urgent need for beds


The NHS’s own leaders recently suggested that a minimum of 4000 extra beds are needed if the health system is to get through next winter.

Patients treated in corridors

Delegates at the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting (ARM) today passed a motion asserting that it is abhorrent that patients are being assessed and treated in hospital corridors, due to a lack of beds.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Robert Harwood, BMA consultants committee chair, said:

“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.

“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.

“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.”

The British are rightly proud of the NHS and its achievements. But we need systematic long-term funding consistency to rebuild the NHS so that it can meet future needs.

Bleeding the NHS dry with stop-go funding is no way for the government to meet their pledges.

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