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State of the health system - Beds in the NHS

Staff nurse with patient in hospital bed 20681

Evidence of NHS hospital bed pressures are well documented. Our members also report substantial problems and strains within the bed system.

"This is what 'no beds' looks like"

Read the Secret Doctor blog

Although not the only indicator, data on how beds are used within the NHS provide an excellent insight into the healthcare system.

This paper presents NHS bed data from across the UK in one place. The data demonstrates the increasing pressures on the system in each nation. It provides evidence of the underlying cracks within the NHS.

Explore the data and find out the facts about how beds are used in the NHS and what this means for the health system as a whole.

NHS England publishes updates to the bed data on a quarterly basis, which is analysed by the BMA. See the England data tab for the latest analysis (last updated in November 2017).

More information: NHS bed facts and figures

  • England data

    Bed infographic data nations

    The number of overnight beds in England has continued to fall, dipping substantially below 130,000 to a new historic low of 127,614 in quarter two of 2017-18. The decrease of 2,800 beds between quarters one and two of this year was the largest since 2010-11.

    Despite warnings from doctors and chief executives of trusts that the winter of 2017-18 stands to be the worst on record in terms of demand, the NHS now has fewer beds than at any time since records began (1989-90).

    Early indications are that recent attempts to free up beds via reductions in emergency admissions and delayed transfers of care have only yielded very limited successes; consequently, though there was a small reduction in occupancy compared with last year, it was still almost 1.5% higher than two years ago.

    Bed occupancy in the winter of that year (2015-16) exceeded 89% for the first time  and it is conceivable that the winter this year will once again break records.

    Read the collated data for England including infographics and detailed graphs (published in February 2017).

    England bed data (PDF)

     

  • Northern Ireland data

    Bed infographic data nations 

    Beds in Northern Ireland have recently stabilised at approximately 6000. However, bed occupancy has increased for the fourth year in a row, and now stands at its highest figure (83.9%) in at least twelve years.

    The hardest hit area in terms of cuts to beds is mental health, which has seen a loss of over half its beds in the past decade. Occupancy of mental health beds is now at its highest level since 2011/12 (91.3%). 

    Read the collated data for Northern Ireland including infographics and detailed graphs (published in February 2017).

    Northern Ireland bed data (PDF)

     

  • Scotland data

    Bed infographic data nations

    The number of available beds in Scotland has maintained a fairly consistent downward trend, averaging a cuts of roughly 550 a year, which averages out to a 2.3% annual decrease across the past decade.

    Occupancy ostensibly remains low (82% in 2016/17), although it is worth noting that serious questions have been raised about the validity of this figure, as it does not correlate with the experiences of BMA members in Scotland.

    Read the collated data for Scotland including infographics and detailed graphs (published in February 2017).

    Scotland bed data (PDF)

     

  • Wales data

    Bed infographic data nations

    The number of beds in Wales has continued to fall, but the rate of decrease has slowed slightly – between 2015-16 and 2016-17, the NHS in Wales lost just 78 beds, or 0.7% of its bed stock.

    However, occupancy has maintained its rise to unprecedented levels, having reached 87.4% last year, half a percent higher than the year before. In the past decade occupancy has increased by 4.6% at an average of 0.5% per year.

    Occupancy of geriatric medicine beds exceeded 95% for the third year in a row, while occupancy of mental illness beds reached its highest level in eight years.

    However, there have small improvements against the four, eight and twelve hour A&E wait targets, while the number of patients experiencing delayed transfers of care reached a three-year low in April 2017, and the general trend is one of improvement.

    Read the collated data for Wales including infographics and detailed graphs (published in February 2017).

    Wales bed data (PDF)

     

  • Download full report

    Download the full report for the whole of the UK published in February 2017.

    State of the health system - Beds in the NHS (PDF)

  • Winter pressures

    As part of our ongoing work evaluating pressures in the NHS, the BMA is publishing monthly analysis of a number of key indicators, including those directly related to winter pressures.

    Read our analysis of pressure points in the NHS

    At the end of the winter period (March 2018), the BMA will also be publishing a follow up to the 2016/17 NHS pressures data analysis, examining how the NHS has coped over the previous four months.

     

  • Blogs and media coverage

    Blogs 

    Read a collection of recent blogs highlighting the day to day struggle of beds in the NHS:

    Bed shortages: the daily challenge
    Read the blog

    A stretched service and bed shortages is forcing undignified care on patients
    Read the blog

    This is what 'no beds' looks like
    Read the blog

     

    Media coverage

    Read a collection of BMA and national media coverage:

    Delays from lack of beds is now the new normal
    BMA press release

    NHS cuts 15k bed in six years, one in ten beds axed, the same as closing 24 hospitals, BMA report reveals
    (Front page) The Daily Mail, Monday 20 February 2017, (Dr Mark Porter)

    British Medical Associations says NHS is at breaking point
    The Guardian, Monday 20 February 2017, (Dr Mark Porter)

    NHS 'breaking point' now the new norm as six years sees 15,000 beds lost
    The Daily Telegraph, Monday 20 February 2017, (Dr Mark Porter)

    Patients left deserted as hospitals are at 'breaking point'
    The Times, Monday 20 February 2017, (Dr Mark Porter) – Subscription required

    Top doctors warn long delays for hospital beds is now the new normal
    The Sun, Monday 20 February 2017, (Dr Mark Porter)

    Number of bed drops by a fifth in ten years as BMA warns NHS is at 'breaking point'
    The Huffington Post, Monday 20 February 2017, (Dr Mark Porter)

    Claims hospitals at 'breaking point' inaccurate but busier than ever
    Mail Online, Monday 20 February 2017, (Dr Mark Porter)

    British Medical Association: 'NHS at breaking point' as beds shortage compounds situation
    ITV News Online, Monday 20 February 2017, (Dr Mark Porter)

    BMA warns the number of NHS hospitals beds has plunged by 20 per cent in ten years
    Daily Mirror, Monday20 February 2017, (Dr Mark Porter)

    Department of Health deny BMA's claims NHS is at 'breaking point'
    Sky News Online, Monday 20 February 2017, (Dr Mark Porter)

    NHS hospitals are 'busier than ever' but DH says 'breaking point' claims are inaccurate
    Press Association; 100+ regional articles, Monday 20 February 2017, (Dr Mark Porter)

    BMA warns NHS at breaking point
    The Metro, Monday 20 February 2017, (BMA Mention, Dr Mark Porter)