What to Do About the Shortage of Hospital Beds

Right now, there is a crisis. There is a shortage of hospital beds in the UK, with an urgent solution desperately needed.

The UK has the least number of hospital beds per person out of practically every country in the West. This leaves the UK to be in a similar situation as India, Indonesia, and Mexico. Countries such as Germany and France have over twice as many hospital beds per person. The levels of overcrowding in NHS hospitals have gone beyond the safety limits.

Companies such as fastlet.com do offer a helping hand by supplying disable accommodation with wet rooms and wheelchair access where patients can be discharged to an apartment costing about the same price as a hotel room on an open-ended stay with no deposit.  This has been a godsend for West Sussex and neighboring hospitals. The owners work closely with social workers and other care professionals to ensure that facilities are available. They are prepared to store their furniture’s to make room for hospital beds, hoists and other disable equipment’s needed. The venue they use is Carylls Country House, a large 15th century building, in village of Faygate which is only 4 miles from Crawley and Horsham and 6 miles from Gatwick airport.. It has the advantages of 5-acre gardens and large onsite car-parks which are handy for ambulances and visiting community nurses. The patients are overjoyed to occupy an apartment with self-catering facilities rather that be in a hospital dormitory.

Hospitals are struggling to cope with the demand for hospital beds. At the same time, there are more and more hospital beds being eliminated from hospitals. The number of beds is half of what it was three decades ago, going from nearly 300,000 to less than 143,000. It is not rare to see hospitals regularly above 95% capacity when it comes to their hospital beds.

Local councils all over the UK are visited by Care Quality Commission inspectors for the very first time. They are doing this to help with the crisis revolving around the NHS bed shortage. The Commission is targeting towns which are not doing their part in ensuring there is enough space for patients. If these towns do not make sure that there is adequate beds for patients, they may have financial sanctions imposed upon them. Those areas which are failing to meet the needs of patients will be exposed publicly.

When there are high levels of hospital bed occupancy, there are more hospital-acquired infections. The scarcity of hospital beds has forced NHS England to tell hospitals to postpone tens of thousands of operations that were planned, for several months.

These kinds of delays are simply unacceptable in a developed nation and there must be something done to address this dire situation. When a patient comes to a hospital, they expect to get better after going there, not worse. Unfortunately, this is one of the side effects of the current shortage of hospital beds in the UK.

What is Causing the Shortage of Hospital Beds

How did this crisis reach the level of severity it is currently at? There are a few reasons for the shortage of hospital beds in the UK currently. Together, these have caused the ‘perfect storm’ for the NHS.

Perhaps the catalyst for the shortage of hospital beds was the reduction in the number of beds in NHS hospitals. Starting around 1987 and escalating around 2010, the number of general and acute beds has been in a steady decline. The maximum limit on what is considered a safe level of occupancy of hospital beds is 85%. Anything higher than that leads to elevated risks of pathogens spreading and infecting other patients.

The Official Explanation

What is the reason given for the reduction in hospital beds? Official sources says that it stems from patients with mental illnesses and learning disabilities being cared for within communities instead of hospitals. Another reason given was that patients do not have to spend more time in hospital than in the past.

However, the reality of the crisis indicates these do not reflect the reality. With a healthcare system containing fewer acute hospital beds per person than nearly any other comparable system in the world, there is clearly a bigger problem at hand.

With further proposed reductions looming on the brink of acceptance, they have to be seen as being unrealistic. Having fewer beds in a hospital means more patients have to be cared for within their communities. However, current intermediate care can only address approximately half of the demand.

More Reasons for the Bed Shortage

Another one of the main reasons for the shortage is the inability to discharge patients who no longer require any care from the hospital they were staying at. These delayed transfers of care have skyrocketed in recent years, with totals nearing three million.

Another major reason is a lack of care home facilities. Local governments and community nurses are supposed to take charge of this area, but are failing to do so.

There is also an increase in the number of seniors who are in need of hospital services. As the Baby Boomer population ages, more of them are having to check into hospitals for care.

The inefficiency of the system is making it so that there are people staying in hospitals who no longer need to be there. Keeping them there undermines their dignity and lowers their quality of life. On top of that, it puts severe strain on hospitals and wastes hard-earned tax dollars of the common man and woman.

Although “escalation beds” have begun being used in hospitals, this is neither resolving the issue nor is it successfully helping the entirety of the problem. These are supposed to be beds used temporarily or in emergency cases, such as during peak times of the year. However, they have become routinely deployed given the lack of normal hospital beds.

What Can Be Done

Thankfully, there are solutions to the hospital bed shortage. While one of these is the most helpful on a large scale, the rest are able to manage the crisis so it could stay below extremely severe proportions. Here are a few of the paths that can be taken to currently deal with the shortage of hospital beds in the UK.

Increased Funding to Open ‘Ghost Wards’

There are situations where there are actual physical beds for patients who need them. However, there is no financial support to put them into use. As of 2018, there were 82 “ghost wards” which held a total of 1,429 empty beds waiting to be used. Unfortunately, they are unable to get put to use because there is a lack of money to hire staff to assist patients in these empty beds.

It appears that funding is going in the opposite direction. Further reductions in hospital beds, as has been seriously proposed, will only work to increase the severity of an already-severe crisis. Earlier in 2019, the head of the NHS itself has admitted that the reduction of hospital beds has already left hospitals unable to cope with all the patients needing care.

Hospitals are now being called to increase the number of acute and general medical beds they have. While this call has been made, it has not been answered, which means solutions outside the NHS have to be looked at. Thankfully, there are private companies that are answering the call to this exceptional health crisis.

Private Sector Beds

The private sector has bed capacity severely needed by NHS hospitals. Private beds have begun being booked, given that waiting lists for treatments and operations have reached their highest levels in a decade in 2018, at over 4.3 million. Current plans involve switching from just booking private beds during busy periods, such as the winter months, to booking large blocks of private beds well in advance to ensure that entire lists of patients requiring care after surgery can be outsourced at peak times.

Private providers used to only provide beds during the busy winter months. However, they have now begun providing beds throughout the year and this trend does not appear to be changing anytime soon. With NHS trusts being under intense pressure to minimize their waiting lists, there is a demand for private sector beds. The target is to have 92% of patients treated within a maximum time frame of 18 months. While this may seem like an improvement, it is still quite a long time for some patients.

Short-Stay Accommodation Services

Short-stay accommodation services can also help diminish the crisis currently affecting the UK. There have been several local councils helped using short-stay accommodations. Thanks to this working solution, patients have begun being moved out of hospitals and into disability friendly apartments. This move has been a tremendous help towards ensuring facilities, such as West Sussex hospitals, are getting space freed up to deal with the demand.

These apartments provide accessible accommodation, which is an important feature for many patients. There is wheelchair access, which helps those with mobility issues get in and out safely and with ease. There are also disabled facilities such as a wet room for disabled patients. In addition to these, there is also disabled parking.

Short-stay accommodation services are flexible so they can cater to patients as best as possible. Whenever a patient is leaving hospital, such as when they have a discharge from hospital, he or she has a working solution to the shortage of hospital beds in the UK. While more needs to be done on the governmental level regarding this crisis, there is at least one solution that is effectively relieving some of the pressure of the hospital bed crisis.

Wrapping Up

There is a serious crisis in the UK with regards to a lack of hospital beds. This has been a problem 30 years in the making due to cuts in funding of critical NHS services and a lack of action when the situation was more manageable. Today, the crisis is at the point of no return.

With some hospitals running at 99% capacity, an effective solution to the chronic bed shortage is desperately needed. Thanks to short-stay accommodation services such as fastlet.com, there may already be a working solution. Since ‘ghost wards’ do not look like they will be operational anytime soon and private sector beds not being that accommodating, there is only one true solution.

Short-stay accommodation services can deal with the overcapacity of NHS hospitals in a way which provides dignity to patients, along with all of the services they need.