A new study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has found that Britain has the second lowest number of hospital beds per capita in Europe.
The research has heightened concerns that the health service is now “stretched to breaking point”, with levels of hospital overcrowding across the country repeatedly breaching recommended limits.
Indeed, research has shown that recommended NHS safety limits have been exceeded across every quarter for the past two years.
According to official NHS figures, over 50,000 NHS hospital beds have been lost in England since 2001, and this, coupled with an increasingly ageing population, has led the NHS down a slippery slope. In contrast, other European countries including Germany and France have more than twice as many beds per person as Britain.
Currently, there are 2.95 hospital beds per 1,000 people in the UK, the OECD research revealed, while that figure sits at 6.37 beds per person in France, 7.65 in Austria and 8.27 in Germany. This low level of beds has led to cancelled operations and patients being moved from ward to ward as staff hunt for a bed for them.
Only Sweden has fewer beds per person than the UK, with 2.71 beds per 1,000 people, but the country has invested in a high level of community care to ensure hospitals are not burdened.
Chief executive of the Foundation Trust network, which represents NHS hospitals, Chris Hopson, told The Telegraph: “These figures show that NHS hospitals are operating at near full capacity all the time. There is no slack in the system and trusts are constantly juggling their resources to meet patient demand.
“We must avoid situations where elderly people are moved from one bed to the next, or forced to endure long waits on trolleys, but it’s not easy because of the pressure the system is under.”
However, a spokesman for the Department of Health said that bed numbers were not an accurate marker for good care.
“The NHS is treating people quicker than ever, and more care is being delivered in the community, so far fewer need to stay overnight – which is often better for patients who prefer being at home,” the spokesman said.