The NHS is going into this winter with 5,500 fewer general acute beds than last year, NHS England data has revealed.
The numbers of general and acute beds open overnight from July to September this year was 94,787 compared with 100,370 for the same period in 2019, a fall of 5.6% or 5,583 beds.
The reduction in bed numbers is thought to be partly because of covid infection control measures, such as creating more distance between beds. HSJ reported this week that Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust had taken nearly 100 beds out of use to allow for better social distancing.
The figures showed significant regional differences. London had 8% fewer beds available compared with last year, while the East of England and the North East only had 3.4% fewer. The North West, which has been badly affected by the second wave of covid, had 6.6% fewer beds than last year.
NHS Providers deputy chief executive Saffron Cordery said: “We have been arguing for some time that the NHS is short of beds as we head into winter… This is a real problem as trusts deal with pressures posed by the virus, growing demand for urgent and emergency care and the work to recover the backlog of routine operations.”
Nuffield Trust deputy director of research Sarah Scobie said: “This drop in the number of beds available bears out our warning that infection control will mean a loss of capacity even between waves of the virus. Many of these will have been beds too close to others for physical distancing. This is why it will be so difficult to return to previous rates of activity while the virus remains at large, worsening waiting times and forcing difficult decisions about who gets priority."
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Source: HSJ, 19 November 2020