Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) footprints have lost around 6,000 beds since 2014/15, the British Medical Association (BMA) has found.
A new report by the BMA revealed yesterday that, on average, 140 hospital beds per STP footprint – the geographical area covered by each STP – have been lost in the last three years – a total of 6,000 beds across the country.
The findings come after the medical trade union warned in April that the NHS could be facing a ‘year-round crisis’.
The five STP footprints that saw the biggest drop in hospital beds are:
- Lincolnshire: 21% reduction
- South East London: 18% reduction
- Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland: 17.6% reduction
- Somerset: 15.8% reduction
- Greater Manchester: 15.4% reduction
‘Integral to smooth running’
BMA consultants committee chair Dr Robert Harwood said that having enough beds is ‘integral to the smooth running of the NHS’.
He continued: ‘ […] Our analysis shows that parts of the country that have lost the most beds have also seen their performance deteriorate faster.
‘Patients are already facing unacceptably long waits to be seen and the indignity of being treated in hospital corridors, and this is only set to get worse.’
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UK has less than three hospital beds per 1,000, the second lowest number of beds per head in Europe.
In 2017/18, patients endured the worst winter on record, with bed occupancy levels averaging at 94.4% between December and February, the BMA found.
Last month, NHS Improvement and NHS England said at their first joint board meeting that a further 4,000 beds are needed if the NHS is to cope with the next winter pressures.
The BMA highlighted significant concerns regarding the viability of individual STPs’ planning of bed capacity.
It added: ‘The lack of substantive public engagement by many STPs on their plans, even in cases where proposed bed reductions are no longer being pursued, has meant that many doctors, NHS staff, and the public remain concerned and uncertain about the implications those plans may have.
‘As a result, it is important that future plans STPs might have in relation to bed numbers are transparent and made public.’
Tackling bed losses
The BMA made the following recommendations to reduce pressures across the healthcare system:
- The Government should report on bed numbers on a regular basis at an STP level and make this information accessible to the public
- Proper resources, planning and time should be dedicated to enhancing care and capacity in the community to absorb greater demand
- All STPs should assess their bed needs over five to 10 years and publish their findings
- No further bed cuts should be planned until key targets are met and sufficient capacity in the community is established
- The Government should prioritise restoring bed capacity in the NHS to a level considered appropriate by clinicians