HSJ’s essential round up of the day’s biggest health stories

A&E doctors make timely call for more beds

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s call for 5,000 more beds, as exclusively reported by HSJ, is timely, with NHS leaders due to gather in coming days to collectively examine their winter plans.

The 4 per cent increase to the NHS’s 130,000 bed base would equate to an average hospital adding around 20 beds, and similar increases in mental and community providers, although there would be significant variation across the system.

After years of trying to drive bed numbers down of costly acute beds, system leaders now appear to have had a change of heart. They are also carrying out a detailed bed audit with what we assume is the intention of ensuring there are enough this winter – rather than taking out an excess.

NHS England set out new restrictions on hospital bed closures in March. It also disputed the suggestion in our article that the overall bed base was in decline. A spokesman said reported reductions were down to misreporting rather than a material drop. The precise truth will never be known – we are talking about a difference of a few hundred beds out of around 100,000. It appears a long sustained reduction in bed numbers may be slowing. Changes over the next 12 months will be watched closely.

Most of NHS England’s efforts to help address capacity have focused on optimising existing capacity by trying to better manage demand, speed up length of stay, discharges and improve overall flow.

The current bed audit, as well as helping manage demand pressures, might shed some light on the whole situation. We hope that in the interested of a well informed debate, the findings will be published in full.

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