The number of general and acute NHS hospital beds has increased by 700 according to the Department of Health - but demands on the service are also rising.It is the first rise in bed numbers since 1971 and the largest since records began in 1960.The government is now a third of the way towards its NHS plan target of creating 2,100 extra beds by April 2004.The DoH also reveals that the number of available critical care beds has risen by 597 between July 2000 and July 2001 and now stands at 2,940.Over the past year, annual attendances at consultant outpatient clinics increased by 1.2 per cent and in the general and acute sector by 1.7 per cent, though those in accident and emergency departments and minor injury units fell by 1.6 per cent.