The number of hospital beds

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  • Posted:Thursday 05 September 2019

A shift in national policy towards providing care outside of hospital has seen a reduction in the number of hospital beds. However, more recently there has been growing concern that this has gone too far and we now don’t have enough hospital beds.

How has the number of hospital beds in England changed over time and how does this compare to other countries?

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  • NHS England collects quarterly information on overnight bed availability based on a snapshot midnight census. This midnight snapshot may underestimate the pressures on bed availability during the working day.
  • The number of beds presented for each year is the unweighted average across the four quarters of the year.
  • The methodology used to count the number of NHS beds was changed in 2010/11. Data is not directly comparable before and after this financial year. Before 2010/11, beds were counted on ward type, but since 2010/11 they have been counted using the specialty of the consultant. This means that some types of beds – such as intermediate care beds and community mental health beds – are not counted in the new methodology. Changing the methodology resulted in the number of reported beds reducing by 10 per cent between 2009/10 and 2010/11.
  • Following a revalidation of mental health beds in 2015/16, which confirmed these beds were not consultant-led, there was a significant (around 10 per cent) reduction in the number included in the data.
  • Some NHS patients are treated by non-NHS providers. Hospital beds used for these procedures are excluded from the data above.

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