The number of hospital beds

Hospital beds

Sources: NHS England (2015); The King’s Fund estimate for 2011/12 to 2013/14

The number of hospital beds has been declining for many years in England and many other countries. This is a result both of medical advances (leading to shorter lengths of stay) and a shift in policy towards treatment and care outside hospital.

Over the past 26 years the number of available hospital beds in England has more than halved, though the decreases are more marked in beds for people with learning disabilities, mental illness and for longer-term care of older people.

In recent years there has been an increase in the intensity with which beds are being used (measured by occupancy rates). Occupancy rates for acute beds have increased from 87.7 per cent in 2010/11 to 89.5 per cent in 2014/15.

Optimum occupancy rates for hospital beds are context dependent and vary between organisations but the National Audit Office has suggested that hospitals with average bed occupancy levels above 85 per cent can expect to have regular bed shortages, periodic bed crises and increased numbers of health care-acquired infections.

Some NHS patients are treated by non-NHS providers – these hospital beds are excluded from the data above.

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