Hospitals will need to meet conditions before cutting beds, warns NHS England

NHS England is clamping down on the closure of hospital beds.

The widespread closure of hospital beds will not be approved unless certain conditions are met, NHS England has warned.

NHS England chief executive Simon Steven has spoken out against
cutting hospital bed numbers. Picture: Barney Newman

From 1 April, hospitals must satisfy one of three conditions on top of existing tests before the bed cuts go ahead.

The criteria includes ensuring adequate alternatives are in place, such as bolstered GP services and staff to meet increasing demand caused by bed closures.

Hospitals that are not using their beds efficiently will have to show they have plans to improve their performance without patient care being compromised.

NHS England chief executive Simon Steven is expected to say at the Nuffield Trust health policy summit today that, 'there can no longer be an automatic assumption that it is okay to slash many thousands of extra hospital beds, unless and until there really are better alternatives in place for patients'.

STP concerns 

Figures from the third quarter of 2016-17 showed a slight rise in the number of hospital beds occupied, up 1.4% to 90.5%, the equivalent of an extra 1,439 beds, according to NHS England.

There are concerns that services could face cuts through sustainability and transformation plans (STPs). STPs have been created in 44 areas of England, setting out how the NHS will change services while also cutting spending.

In several regions, the aim is to close or downgrade entire hospitals, while others suggest closing emergency departments, maternity or merging some services.

The RCN has previously warned that STP proposals could include short-term cuts to hospital beds. 

Funding shortfall 

The college said that STPs have laid bare the size of the funding shortfall, following the release of an analysis by the Health Foundation that shows a £2 billion gap in social care funding in 2017-18.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: 'With this chasm in social care funding, it will be extremely difficult for STPs to achieve what NHS England expects.

'In next week's budget the government needs to commit to a significant cash injection for social care. Failure to do so could be catastrophic. Without it, STPs will be used to make short-term cuts to hospital beds and community services as providers struggle to paper over the gaps.'

Unison head of health Christina McAnea said the NHS England announcement should 'reassure patients that hospital beds will be available when they need them'.

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