New analysis reveals scale of future pressure on hospital beds

The ageing and growing population means that the NHS will require an additional 17,000 hospital beds in seven years unless improvements can be made to community and hospital care to reduce the length of time for which patients are admitted.

Press Release

Published: 06/10/2014

The ageing and growing population means that the NHS will require an additional 17,000 hospital beds in seven years unless improvements can be made to community and hospital care to reduce the length of time for which patients are admitted, according to analysis by the Nuffield Trust. 

The analysis, carried out for the Financial Times newspaper, finds that hospital admissions grew by 2 million (16%) over the past seven years. If admissions continue to rise, population change alone will mean we need an additional 6.2 million ‘bed days’ (overnight stays) by 2022. This equates to 17,000 additional beds or 22 hospitals with 800 beds each. 

The pressures on hospitals are immense, and this analysis suggests that demographic change looks set to be the most significant driver of pressures on NHS capacity in the future. 

Nigel Edwards, Chief Executive, Nuffield Trust

However, the Nuffield Trust study finds that despite the 16% rise in admissions between 2006/7 and 2012/3, the NHS has managed with fewer hospital beds. This was due to changes in the types of admission and significant reductions in the length of time people stayed in hospital: two-thirds of the overall increase in admissions during this period was driven by day-cases or short stays for investigations and diagnosis; and admissions lasting longer than a month were reduced by 13%. 

The Nuffield Trust says this shows there must be significant change in the way care is delivered in the future to manage the growing pressures on hospital beds. This will require more care in the community, better use of services that enable day-surgery and improved arrangements for discharging patients into their communities. 

Nigel Edwards, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Trust said: 

"The pressures on hospitals are immense, and this analysis suggests that demographic change looks set to be the most significant driver of pressures on NHS capacity in the future. 

"But even if building several more hospitals were affordable, this wouldn't be the right answer - hospital isn’t always the right place for frail older people. So we should look closely at alternative solutions first. 

"History shows we can manage rising admissions by carefully reducing the time people spend in hospital. This requires excellent and co-ordinated care in the community. But this too costs money."