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New statistics show chronic shortage of beds, as increasing numbers of older patients stay in hospital

24 Nov 2016

The chronic shortage of hospital beds in England required for overnight stays urgently needs to be addressed to cope with the increasing numbers of older patients in hospital, the Royal College of Surgeons has warned.

NHS England has today published statistics which show that the percentage of beds occupied in wards open overnight has now reached over 89% in the second quarter (July-September) of 2016-17. Last year’s equivalent figure was 87%. In 2000-01 overnight hospital bed occupancy averaged at 84.7%. Health experts advise that occupancy levels should ideally be under 85% although this has become increasingly difficult to attain. Anything over this level is regarded as riskier for patients as this leads to bed shortages, periodic bed crises, and a rise in healthcare-acquired infections such as MRSA. Recent statistics are the worst in 16 years with every quarter in the last year showing over 89% of beds are occupied.

The statistics come one day after the Government indicated that there would be no additional funding for social care and the NHS in the Autumn Statement. A number of recent sustainability and transformation plans are proposing further reductions in hospital bed capacity.

Commenting on these statistics, Mr Ian Eardley, a consultant urological surgeon and Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“The NHS has been able to reduce bed numbers as medical advances mean more modern surgery can take place without an overnight stay. However, these figures suggest bed reductions have now gone too far in the absence of sufficient social care or community care alternatives. We are now seeing increasing numbers of frail older patients in hospital because they have nowhere else to go. The lack of additional money in the Autumn Statement for social care and the NHS is only going to make this even harder.

“Today’s figures will come as no surprise to frontline staff who struggle every day to provide for their patients because of increasing demands and a shortage of hospital beds. I and too many of my colleagues all around the country are regularly having to cancel patients’ operations due to a lack of beds and delays in transferring patients back into the community. 

“A number of sustainability and transformation plans are proposing further hospital bed reductions. Today’s figures suggest NHS leaders need to think carefully about whether this is a good idea without first putting in place better care in the community.”

Today’s figures almost certainly underestimate hospital bed shortages in the NHS. The Nuffield Trust think tank warned last month that NHS England’s bed occupancy statistics do not show the true scale of the problem, stating that “with a growing number of patients coming and going during the day, counting bed occupancy at midnight means that crunch times are often invisible.”[1]


Notes to editors

  1. The statistics can be viewed here:

  2. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.

For more information, please contact the Press Office:

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