IT HAS become axiomatic that the shortage of beds in hospitals is down to the growing number of elderly people and the failures within the social-care system which mean that patients have to wait in a hospital bed for a care-home place.
Yet new evidence from the British Medical Association provides a reminder that another factor is at work here, namely the steady reduction of hospital beds. This is starkly illustrated by figures showing the average number of beds per 1,000 people dropping from 3.8 in 2000 to 2.4 by 2015.
Ask the NHS about this and the reply is always the same. It is part of a long-term redirection of investment towards community services and other care options outside hospital.
Indeed, as Professor Keith Willett, of NHS England, wrote in this newspaper last week, treatments are now available in specialist centres that offer survival rates impossible to achieve in local hospitals.
And yet, to patients left languishing on waiting lists, or on trolleys in hospital corridors, and to surgeons who, it was reported earlier this month, are left “kicking their heels” because of delays to operations caused by bed shortages, this brave new world must seem a very distant vision.
Have patience, we are told, and the NHS’s much vaunted Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) will bring about the envisaged change.
However, the fact that the systematic reduction in beds began long before STPs were a gleam in even the most far-sighted NHS bureaucrat’s eyes is a reminder that its prime motivation has not been transforming care but saving money.
And the spiralling crisis in social care and continued waste of precious NHS resources, such as surgeons’ time, suggests it has not even succeeded in doing that.