Health unions yesterday condemned NHS bosses’ plans to slash thousands of hospital beds to concentrate on care in the community.
The proposition that fewer beds equals better care, is put forward in a briefing paper ‘Why we need fewer hospital beds’ published yesterday by the managers’ NHS Confederation.
Its message is, ‘The number of hospital beds has fallen by one third in the last 20 years, but the NHS is doing more than ever before.’
It continues: ‘Advances in technology and new ways of treating patients mean the NHS needs fewer beds.
‘From 1984 to 2004 the number of hospital beds has reduced from 211,617 to 145,218 (31 per cent), whilst the number of admissions needing to stay overnight has increased by 57 per cent in the same period. In 2004, over 90 per cent of NHS patients rated their care as excellent, very good, or good.’
Dr Gill Morgan, Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation, advocating care in the community, said: ‘We need an informed debate about whether beds, bricks and mortar are always the best place to be putting valuable NHS cash.’
Morgan added: ‘There are still a lot more beds that could go.
‘People must start abandoning the idea that beds are sacred.’
The NHS Confederation report outlines ‘seven scenarios’ where treatment can take place without using hospital beds, thus reducing the need for them.
These are ‘new chemotherapy treatments which can be administered to patients in their homes;
‘doctors in local surgeries carrying out minor surgery;
‘keyhole surgery with a shorter recovery time so patients can go home sooner;
‘self treatment for people with chronic bronchitis to help them manage their condition and reduce emergency admissions to hospital;
‘emergency care practitioners in the ambulance service to treat people in their own home;
‘in emergency aortic aneurysm surgery, it is better to travel to an expert centre than a local hospital because the patient’s chance of survival is better;
‘patients spend a lot of time waiting for consultant ward round and tests. More efficiently run hospitals cut out the waiting and patients can go home sooner.’
UNISON Head of Health Karen Jennings commented: ‘This review has a narrow focus; it concentrates on acute beds and on bed numbers and doesn’t look at the wider picture.
‘The figures show that the Thatcher years (1984 to 1996/7) were responsible for the loss of the majority of those beds. That was the result of a major closure programme of institutions such as mental health services and disability learning services.
‘A lot of patients were kicked out of institutions and ended up in bed and breakfast or homeless. We are left with a situation where we have 150 per cent bed occupancy rates in mental health care – this is hidden in the debate that is being raised.
‘Bed losses since 1997 are not attributed to improving the way we treat patients but more to do with cost-cutting measures as a result of the Private Finance Initiative.’
A British Medical Association (BMA) spokesman stressed to News Line: ‘Operations are being cancelled because of a shortage of beds.’