• Hospital bed shortage exposed

    16th April 2014 | News | Claire
  • Today we are looking at the feedback from public engagement exercises. The paperwork states that proposals are now set to be published at the end of this month.

    Here’s the link to the article, which is published in today’s Telegraph – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10768844/Hospital-bed-shortage-exposed.htm l

    The UK has second lowest number of beds per person in Europe, report shows, as NHS overcrowding breaches safety limit and raises risk of superbugs.

    Britain has fewer hospital beds per person than almost any country in the Western world, according to figures which have raised fears that the NHS has become “stretched to breaking point”.

    A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that among 23 European countries, the UK now has the second lowest number of hospital beds per capita.

    Meanwhile levels of overcrowding in hospitals have repeatedly breached recommended safety limits. Official figures show that since 2001, more than 50,000 NHS hospital beds have been lost in England alone, despite a rapidly ageing population.

    As a result, countries such as France and Germany now have more than twice as many beds per head as Britain.

    The OECD analysis shows that in the UK there are now 2.95 beds per 1,000 people, compared with 6.37 in France, 7.65 in Austria and 8.27 in Germany.

    The report reveals potentially dangerous levels of overcrowding on NHS wards, which have now breached recommended safety limits in every quarter for the past two years.

    Experts said many hospitals were full, with elderly people forced to endure long waits on trolleys, and shunted from ward to ward, while operations were too often being cancelled for want of a bed.

    The OECD report discloses that Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Estonia and Slovenia now all have far more beds for their population than the UK and Ireland.

    In Europe, only Sweden — which has invested heavily in community care — has fewer beds for its population, with 2.71 beds per 1,000 people, the report shows. Further afield, countries such as Japan and South Korea have still higher numbers of beds, with 13.4 beds per 1,000 people and 9.56 per 1,000 people respectively.

    The lowest number of beds per capita was found beyond Europe, in countries such as India, Mexico, Chile and Indonesia.

    Chris Hopson, chief executive of the Foundation Trust network, which represents NHS hospitals, said: “These figures show that NHS hospitals are operating at near full capacity all the time. There is no slack in the system and trusts are constantly juggling their resources to meet patient demand.”

    He said hospitals were not always the best place for many vulnerable patients, but added it was not safe to scale back such services any further until better community services were in place.

    “We must avoid situations where elderly people are moved from one bed to the next, or forced to endure long waits on trolleys, but it’s not easy because of the pressure the system is under,” he said.

    Infection control experts advise that bed occupancy should not rise higher than 85 per cent because of an increased risk of superbugs when there is not enough time to clean beds properly between patients.

    The OECD report shows that in 2011, 84 per cent of NHS beds were full at any one time — above the OECD average of 78 per cent.

    Latest data indicate that, since then, hospitals in the UK have become still more crowded.

    Official NHS figures disclose that in England, occupancy rates reached 87.6 per cent last year — and have remained above 85 per cent ever since. Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association said: “These figures are shocking. This shows a system stretched to breaking point.”

    She said too many vulnerable people were being parcelled from one ward to the next or sent home in the middle of the night to make space for new arrivals.

    “We hear about people being moved around from one ward to the other to create bed space, patients being left waiting in corridors for hours, or being cared for on the trolleys while waiting for a bed leading to unsafe and undignified care,” she added.

    Gaetan Lafortune, a senior economist in the OECD’s health division, said the rising occupancy levels were a “source of concern” and warned that bed shortages could soon lead to increases in waiting times.

    The findings emerged as senior managers and doctors accused MPs of treating the NHS as a “political football” and failing to have an “open discussion” about the level of services the public can expect with existing funding levels.

    The report, by the NHS Confederation, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Healthcare Financial Management Association and the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management, said the balance between rising demand for services and static funding “cannot be maintained”.

    A Department of Health spokesman said: “Bed numbers are not an accurate marker for good care. The NHS is treating people quicker than ever, and more care is being delivered in the community, so far fewer need to stay overnight – which is often better for patients who prefer being at home.”