Trusts and health authorities will receive 'prescriptive' guidance next month showing them how to get their share of 2,100 extra acute and general beds promised in the NHS plan.

A circular backed by a web-based interactive toolkit will allow them to map out their own data on capacity for the two bed categories.

Social services, primary care groups and primary care trusts will also input into modelling exercises, HSJ understands.

The beds model is designed to level up bed numbers nationwide, and ensure that no trust exceeds capacity targets of 82 per cent for its acute and general beds.

Civil servants working on the guidance are understood to be keen to make completion of the database an annual event, so it can be used as a performance measure. Insiders working on the toolkit describe the guidance as 'pretty prescriptive'.

The format of the kit is likely to be either a series of structured questions or a spreadsheet into which organisations plot out their own position and model potential alternatives.

Hospitals with high capacity of acute beds will be 'encouraged' to examine their provision in community and primary care services, 'forcing' trusts to work more closely with the rest of the health economy.

The findings will be passed on to regional offices, which will 'negotiate' with the Department of Health to allocate the extra beds promised by 2004.

Development of the model is being led by John James, chief executive of Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster HA.

He is working with a team of officials, including DoH chief economist Clive Smee.

The toolkit is currently being 'road-tested' on managers at the HA, and officials are hopeful that it will be trialled at several more organisations during the next month.

But Alan Maynard, professor of health economics at York University, was cynical about the NHS's track record on information collection.

'If they can devise a well-planned way to collect and translate their qualitative data, then wow - that would be a change. '

But Professor Maynard queried what rationale existed for bringing all capacity down to 82 per cent.

'Is this the 11th commandment? The incentive should still be to keep the figures up as high as you possibly can.

'If you have good managers and good information you can run at 90 per cent without having a nervous breakdown and without compromising patient care. What it needs is investment in management. '

But Institute of Healthcare Management deputy chief executive Suzanne Tyler said she felt managers would welcome 'a move back to more uniform strategic planning'.

'Many people would say there's no strategic planning in the NHS now. I think from what I pick up from managers the feeling is we can't go back to the days of the six-inch manual that says how every detail is run. . . but we do have to have a strategic approach which looks at the whole economy. '

And Professor Sir Brian Jarman, emeritus professor of general practice at Imperial College London, urged the government to increase further the number of acute and general beds before trying out alternative intermediate care services 'which still need proper evaluation'.

Referring to the 2,100 acute and general beds promised nationally, he told HSJ: 'I would put them all in London, practically. That's where they are needed. '