Under the headline:
‘Number of available hospital beds plummets in five years. The Scottish Conservatives say it is easy to see why NHS ‘horror stories’ happen.’
STV went on to allow the ill-informed views of Tory shadow health secretary, Miles Briggs (above), to completely misrepresent the scale and the effects of a small reduction in the number of beds available in Scottish hospitals and dominate the narrative unchallenged. From their report, here are the figures:
‘Statistics released by NHS Scotland’s information services division show the number of beds has declined by 1672 to 21,340, a fall of 7.3%, since 2012-13.’
So, the number of beds has been falling, not really ‘plummeting’, at around 2.4% per year. Several paragraphs later, the Health Secretary was able to offer some context for this, but the headlines and the Tory rant had done their damage by then:
‘We have seen a significant 10% reduction in length of stay in hospital for elective admissions since 2011/12 and there are also signs that the growth in emergency admissions is slowing year on year – which is good for patients.’
So, in a comparable period, the length of stay has been reducing by 10% and the number of beds by 7.3%. This looks like a plan rather than neglect. Indeed, in England, the Kings Fund has reported and explained an even larger fall:
- The total number of NHS hospital beds in England, including general and acute, mental illness, learning disability, maternity and day-only beds, has more than halved over the past 30 years, from around 299,000 to 142,000, while the number of patients treated has increased significantly.
- Since 1987/8, the largest percentage reductions in bed numbers have occurred in mental illness and learning disability beds as a result of long-term policies to move these patients out of hospital and provide care in the community.
- The number of general and acute beds has fallen by 43 per cent since 1987/8, the bulk of this fall due to closures of beds for the long-term care of older people. Medical innovation, including an increase in day-case surgery, has also had an impact by reducing the time that many patients spend in hospital.
In brief, many more patients, especially the elderly and those with mental health problems, are being treated in the community and, logically, funds are being transferred from hospital beds to community care.
Finally, there are:
21 340 beds in Scotland or 1 bed for every 248 people
142 000 beds in England or 1 bed for every 373 people.
That means provision of beds in Scottish hospitals, regardless of the above transfers to community care, remains 50% higher than in England.
The STV report fails on three counts. It allows unsubstantiated rumours from an opposition politician to set the tone and to dominate the influential headline. It does not give sufficient attention to other rational reasons for falling numbers of beds in hospitals. Finally, it does not contextualise the Scottish situation in terms of the dramatically worse one in England.
So it goes?