Loss of 25,000 NHS beds caused ‘serious patient safety crisis’, report finds | NHS

The NHS has lost nearly 25,000 beds in the UK in the past decade, according to a scathing report that says the fall has led to a sharp rise in waiting times for emergency services, ambulances and surgeries.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said the massive loss of beds since 2010-11 caused “real patient harm” and a “serious patient safety crisis”. At least 13,000 extra beds are urgently needed to address the ‘unsafe’ bed occupancy rates and the ‘creepy’ emergency room wait times and transfer delays outside hospitals.

Patients are increasingly “concerned” by long wait times, the college said, as are NHS staff who face increasing levels of burnout, exhaustion and morale. The UK has the second lowest number of beds per 1,000 people in Europe at 2.42 and has lost the third largest number of beds per 1,000 inhabitants between 2000 and 2021 (40.7%), the report said.

There are currently 162,000 beds in the NHS in the UK, according to the college.

“The situation is dire and calls for meaningful action,” said Dr. Adrian Boyle, vice president of the college. “Since 2010-11 the NHS has lost 25,000 beds in the UK, as a result bed occupancy has increased, ambulance response times have increased, emergency waiting times have increased and canceled elective care surgeries have increased.

“These numbers are grim,” Boyle added. “They should shock all health and political leaders. These numbers translate into real patient harm and a serious patient safety crisis. The health service is not functioning as it should and the UK government needs to take steps to prevent further deterioration in performance and achieve a significant improvement, especially in the run-up to next winter.”

The college report says 13,000 staffed beds are needed in the UK’s NHS to create “meaningful change and improvement”, including “significant” improvement in emergency waiting times, ambulance response times, transfer delays of ambulances and a return to safe bed occupancy levels. It recommends opening at least 4,500 of them before winter.

The NHS Confederation said a fully funded long-term health and social care plan was needed and more money immediately needed to be invested in social care to ensure that patients who are medically fit for discharge can be cared for in the community .

Rory Deighton, acute lead at the NHS Confederation, said: “This report exposes the magnitude of the challenge facing the NHS in terms of capacity and workforce. NHS leaders are seeing first-hand that capacity in emergency care and ambulance services simply can’t handle the level of pressure we see throughout the system.”

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Andrew Goddard, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: “Even before pandemic hospital beds were short, Covid-19 has created its own additional demand for beds, claiming around 3,000 beds for almost a year now.

“We also urgently need extra beds in social care. Without these, hospitals will remain full, with knock-on effects on emergency departments and on ambulances. The fact is that it is simply not possible to have more staffed beds without increasing the number of doctors, nurses and other clinicians available to care for the patients who need them.

Pat Cullen, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the report highlighted “a health service on its knees”, adding: “Hospitals are packed, with patients in inappropriate locations all too often. “

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