Leading doctors have suggested that Britain has roughly as many hospital beds remaining for the population as Romania, indicating that the NHS is effectively bulging at the seams.
Consultants stated that bed shortages have severely impacted on surgery, with only one-third of the operations which were carried out in the 1960s now possible in the prevailing climate.
Doctors at the British Medical Association’s annual meeting suggested that the bed blocking situation is beginning to have a negative impact on patients, and that Britain faces the prospect of having less available beds in the health service than any other European nation.
The British Medical Association meeting concluded that the bed numbers in the NHS must be reevaluated urgently, amid fears that plans to tackle a spiralling deficit could endanger patients further.
Dr Mary McCarthy, a GP from Shropshire, Spoke to the conference, indicating that the numbers in her NHS region had been steadily eroded without any adequate replacement.
“The UK has less than 300 beds per 100,000 population and in Shropshire, where I am, it’s less than 200. In the Irish Republic a few miles south of here it’s about 500, in Belgium it’s over 650, in France it’s over 700, in Germany it’s over 800, in Austria it’s over 700, in Romania it’s over 600. Do we really need to keep cutting beds? Are we not finding that our hospitals are bulging at the seams with people who should be there but are discharged home too early and unsafely?”
Dr Michael Hardingham, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, from Cheltenham, echoed the comments of McCarthy, and indicated that the situation had rapidly deteriorated over the last few decades.
“I have been working long enough to remember that working in the 1960s … I did at least twice as many cases in a day’s work – possibly three times – and this is largely due to difficulties with beds. The recovery wards get blocked up because they can’t move people out into the hospital beds, and so patients who have been booked just have to be sent home.”
Fresh from challenging Conservative party policy, Dr Mark Porter, BMA Council chairman, suggested that there could be serious consequences of the massive increase in bed occupancy levels.
“If average bed occupancy goes up above about 85 per cent there can be a rise in the risk of cross infection between patients, and it is less likely that an appropriate bed will be available for acute patients as they come in. While this policy might make sense if you are looking for short term cuts, it can have serious implications for quality and cost of care in the longer term. We need to carefully monitor the number of beds available and ensure that we are putting patients first when it comes to deciding how many beds are available in the NHS.”
Official NHS figures indicate that the number of beds available each day has dropped from more than 144,000 in 2010/11 to less than 132,000 in 2014/15.