Care home bed availability

We analyse how availability of care home beds for older people has changed over time.


Last updated: 21/06/2019

Capacity and staffing
Social care


Care homes provide accommodation and help with personal care, such as washing, dressing and taking medicines. Nursing homes are a subset of care homes, where there is always a registered nurse on duty to provide nursing care for people with more complex needs.

Understanding trends in the availability of care home beds is important, because the UK has an ageing population. It is estimated that by 2037, around one in every four people will be aged 65 and over. Demand for social care is expected to rise dramatically, and this will require significant additional elderly residential capacity.

How has care home and nursing home bed availability for older people changed over time in England? 20/06/2019

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Between 2012 and 2018, the overall number of beds in care homes (nursing and residential) per 100 people aged 75 and over declined from 11.3 to 10.1 – a 10% decrease. Likewise, the number of nursing home beds per 100 people aged 75 and over fell from 5.2 to 4.9 – a 7% decrease.

The shift in social care policy towards providing care at home rather than in residential care, may explain some of the fall in bed availability. The number of people admitted to residential and nursing care homes has declined in recent years. However, there is no reliable data on the number of people receiving care at home, so it is difficult to measure changes in service provision.

Looking at longer-term trends, it was estimated that 14.8% of the 85 and over population was in elderly residential accommodation in 2017, compared to 25.2% in 1996.

The decrease in bed availability could also indicate a significant fall in social care provision for older people, which comes at a time of expected growth in demand due to the ageing population. A downward trend in the registration of new care homes, combined with an upward trend in closures, has resulted in a net reduction in the number of beds available.

A recent report found that the overall occupancy of care homes is lower than expected. The aggregate numbers of residents as a percentage of registered beds is 85%, compared to the widely accepted occupancy benchmark of 90%. This suggests that there is ‘latent provision’ in care homes, which commissioners should aim to bring back into use.

About this data

This indicator uses data from Public Health England’s End of Life Care Profiles.

Care home beds: the annual proportion of beds in care homes (nursing and residential) per 100 population aged 75 and over.

Nursing home beds: the annual proportion of beds in nursing homes per 100 population aged 75 and over.

These are all-age indicators because people under 75 years of age can also use care home and nursing home beds.

For more information, please see Public Health England’s Indicator Definitions and Supporting Information.