Increase in hospital beds ‘may ease NHS pressures’

·2-min read

The NHS in England will need almost 40,000 more hospital beds by the end of the decade to return to pre-pandemic levels of hospital care, according to new estimates.

The Health Foundation said that over the past 30 years, hospital bed capacity in England has more than halved.

This has left the NHS with one of the lowest rates of hospital beds per person among comparable countries.

New analysis by the health think tank looks forward to the next decade, when the population is expected to be older and have a higher level of need due to more complex illnesses.

For the NHS to deliver pre-pandemic rates of care, a “substantial increase” in the number of hospital beds is needed, it said.

The analysis concluded that the service will need an additional 23,000 to 39,000 beds by 2030/31 to deliver 2018/19 rates of care.

“Even with this scale of increase, the NHS in England would be at or below the average number of hospital beds per person relative to current levels in other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries,” the Health Foundation said.

The issue has also been raised by the NHS.

Speaking at the NHS ConfedExpo conference in June, NHS England boss Amanda Pritchard raised concerns about a reduction in the number of hospital beds, saying: “We have passed the point at which that efficiency actually becomes inefficient.”

Anita Charlesworth, director of research and the Real Centre at the Health Foundation, said: “Our projections show meeting the future demand for hospital care could require a far larger increase in bed supply than we would expect under the Government’s current hospital plan, and significant additional funding for the DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) capital budget.

“At the moment, there is no national assessment of the amount of capacity the NHS needs.

“Hospitals are full and long waits for ambulances and A&E are a reflection of the pressures on hospital capacity.

“How quickly patients can safely be discharged plays a major role in the number of extra beds the NHS will need.

“The pressures hospitals face are linked to a lack of capacity in social and community care, making it hard to discharge patients.

“Policymakers need to look at capacity in the round, inside and outside of hospital, and set out a realistic plan for how the NHS will meet rising demand over the long-term.

“But whatever choices are made to meet rising demand, doing nothing isn’t an option.”