Headlines: February 11th, 2000

The results of the National Beds Inquiry are likely to have a major influence on management thinking in the NHS.They show that the trend for the numbers of beds in NHS hospitals to reduce year on year has got to stop. The number of NHS beds has been falling for over 30 years – from a peak of 250,000 to 147,000 now – in many cases due to the positive moves towards increased day case surgery and shorter stays in hospital. A similar pattern is seen in other OECD countries.

But now, the inquiry has found that beds and services must expand if future patient needs are to be met. It says there is a need for a ‘whole-system’ view of services.

It implies a radically different approach to the management of care in the NHS. That care has traditionally been about dealing with life’s incidents – heart attacks and broken bones. An ageing population and increasing chronic disease means NHS care has also to be about dealing with life’s experiences – getting older and becoming frailer.

The inquiry’s results support the Health Secretary’s plans to provide a new type of ‘intermediate’ care bed for the the recuperation of older people.

The report also reveals wide variations across the NHS in the number and type of beds and their relationship with the quality of care patients receive. For example, health authorities differ greatly on average lengths of stay in hospital and the proportion of surgery carried out on a day-case basis.