A one-day census to count the number of critical care, general and acute beds nationally takes place tomorrow under the orders of health secretary Alan Milburn.

All trusts, including primary care trusts with beds, were warned three weeks ago that they would need to make the count tomorrow morning, returning results to the Department of Health by the afternoon.

The DoH expects to collate the information over the weekend.

The action comes as the NHS heads into what is bound to be the last winter before the general election.

Extra investment in NHS care to head off perceptions of a winter crisis has not been matched by money for social care, and some health authorities are privately admitting to fears that old problems of bed-blocking will remain despite the best efforts of joint-working. Guidance on the information requested was sent out this week.