Britain’s hospital bed shortage as NHS ‘stretched to breaking point’

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The UK has the second lowest number of hospital beds per person in Europe and is only slightly better than China.

A study undertaken by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) involved comparisons for 23 countries. It has been found that Britain’s bed count per person is almost lower than any country in the Western world. These figures have increased fears that the NHS has now been ‘stretched to breaking point.’

The level of overcrowding in UK hospitals has constantly breached the safety limits that have been recommended. The figures indicate that since 2001, in excess of 50000 hospital beds in the NHS have been removed in England. This comes despite an increase in the aging population. This has resulted in countries like Germany and France showing more than twice the number of beds per head than Britain.

The figures analysed by the OECD show that in Germany there are 8.27 beds per 1000 people, 7.65 in Austria and 6.37 in France, compared to 2.95 in Britain.

The report revealed that overcrowding on NHS ward has reached dangerous levels. Many of the hospital were full and elderly people are often forced to wait for long periods of time on trolleys. They are moved from one ward to the next and operations are often cancelled due to a lack of beds.

The OECD report has revealed that countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia all have far more available beds for their people than Ireland and the UK. It is only Sweden that has fewer beds at 2.71 per 1000 people, however they have placed huge investments in community care.

Beyond Europe, South Korea and Japan have much higher numbers, with 9.56 and 13.4 beds per 1000 people respectively. The countries with the lowest numbers outside Europe are Mexico, Indonesia, Chile and India.

The Chief Executive of the Foundation Trust network, which is the representative for NHS hospitals, Chris Hopson, has stated that the figures which have been revealed show that the NHS hospitals are working at near full capacity constantly. He said that the system is not slacking and trusts have to juggle their resources constantly in a bid to meet the demands of patients.

He said that although hospitals were not always the best place for vulnerable patients, it was unsafe to cut back on such services until better community care services have been put in place.

Experts in infection control have said that bed occupancy levels should not exceed 85% as this increases the risk of superbugs as there is not sufficient time to clean the beds properly. The report indicated that during 2011, around 84% of NHS beds occupied at any one time. This is above the average of the OECD’s 78%. Available data has shown that since that time, NHS hospitals have become even more crowded.

The official figures from the NHS show that in England the occupancy rates reached a level of 87.6% during the last year and have not fallen below 85% since.

A spokesman from the Department of Health has said that the number of beds is not a very good marker for good care. He said that treatment on the NHS is becoming quicker and since more care is being given to the community, fewer people need to stay in hospital overnight. He stated that this situation is better for those who prefer the comfort of their own home.

Image credit: Mark Hillary

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