Projected pressure on hospital beds to test NHS

The ageing and growing population means that the UK’s NHS will require an additional 17,000 hospital beds in seven years unless improvements can be made to community and hospital care to reduce the lengths of time patients are in hospital, according to analysis by the Nuffield Trust.

The analysis, carried out for the Financial Times (FT) newspaper, finds that hospital admissions grew by 2 million (16 per cent) over the past seven years. If admissions continue to rise, population change alone will mean an additional 6.2 million overnight stays will be needed by 2022 – equivalent to 22 hospitals with 800 beds each.

However, the study finds that despite the 16 per cent rise in admissions between 2006/7 and 2012/3, the NHS has managed with fewer hospital beds, owing to changes in the types of admission and significant reductions in the length of time people stayed in hospital. Two-thirds of the overall increase in admissions during this period was driven by day cases or short stays for investigations and diagnosis, while admissions lasting longer than a month were reduced by 13 per cent.

The Nuffield Trust says this shows there must be significant change in the way care is delivered in the future to manage the growing pressures on hospital beds. This will require more care in the community, better use of services that enable day surgery and improved arrangements for discharging patients into their communities.

Nigel Edwards, Nuffield Trust chief executive, said, “The pressures on hospitals are immense, and this analysis suggests that demographic change looks set to be the most significant driver of pressures on NHS capacity in the future.

“But even if building several more hospitals were affordable, this wouldn’t be the right answer – hospital isn’t always the right place for frail older people. So we should look closely at alternative solutions first.

“History shows we can manage rising admissions by carefully reducing the time people spend in hospital. This requires excellent and co-ordinated care in the community. But this, too, costs money.”

The report was based on an analysis of millions of hospital records and represents the most detailed picture yet of the strains on hospitals against the backdrop of ongoing financial constraints, according to the FT.

The data on hospital admissions showed that progress made in cutting the time patients spent in hospital had slowed in 2011/12 and stopped in 2012/13.

Analysts suggest that the NHS will face a £30 billion shortfall in funding by 2020.


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