Some regions of the country should close more than a quarter of their hospital beds to save on running costs and improve care for individual patients, a think tank has said.

The regions that would see the largest cut backs include London, the North East and the North West, while across the whole country more than 30,000 beds should be sacrificed to better focus resources on quality of care, according to Reform.

It is hoped fewer beds would create competition across hospitals, driving up standards.

The centre-right think tank also called on the government and opposition parties to stop interfering in local decision making about NHS ward closures.

The Reform report highlights the number of beds being taken up by elderly patients who could be living elsewhere - so-called “bed blockers”.

“The highest rates of occupancy are for geriatric and acute plus geriatric care, with 92 per cent and 87 per cent respectively. These high rates of occupancy could reflect the blocking of beds by patients who could be treated in the community.”

The study, Fewer Hospitals, More Competition, says the NHS has been right to reduce hospital beds by nearly a half since 1987, from 270,000 to 160,000 in England

The latest challenges in healthcare - helping people manage long term conditions such as diabetes and improving the quality of life for survivors of disease - are less reliant on hospitals, it says.

These conditions can be mostly managed in the community, which cuts cost and moves care away from hospitals.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Efficiencies are about making sure that trusts can continue to provide high quality care at a time when spending is going to be tighter across the whole public sector.

“Each trust will have to decide how best it can do this and how it can best protect the needs of patients.

“This is achievable - focusing on improving quality, productivity and innovation across the NHS will not only improve care but also save money across the NHS.”

See Andrew Haldenby on hospital closures and competition.