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NHS England to pressure test hospitals before allowing bed cuts


3 March 2017

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NHS organisations will now have to meet new requirements before being allowed to close hospital beds, the head of NHS England has said.

In a speech at the Nuffield Trust Health Summit, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England said organisations would have to meet one of three conditions before moving ahead with hospital bed closures.

Many regions proposed to cut beds in an effort to save money as part of plans to reconfigure the health service in England.

NHS organisations will now have to meet new requirements before being allowed to close hospital beds, the head of NHS England has said.

In a speech at the Nuffield Trust Health Summit, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England said organisations would have to meet one of three conditions before moving ahead with hospital bed closures.

Many regions proposed to cut beds in an effort to save money as part of plans to reconfigure the health service in England.

However, the sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) came under fire from the King’s Fund think tank last week, saying the plans to reduce hospital capacity are only realistic if there are also plans to invest in community services first.

From April 1 NHS leaders will have to demonstrate that other services in the community can fill the gap in care through more GP appointments or community services.

Organisations will also be allowed to reduce bed numbers if they can show that new treatments will reduce admissions or if the hospital has a plan to use it’s beds more efficiently.

The new tests will be in addition to the four ‘tests for reconfiguration’ that were implemented in 2010, which says closing beds can only go ahead ‘with support from GP commissioners, strengthened public and patient engagement, clear clinical evidence and provided that they are consistent with patient choice’.

Stevens said in a statement that hospitals are facing ‘contradictory pressures’, having to take advantage of new medicines, which mean patients can be looked after in the community, and older patients with more emergency admissions.

He said: ‘So there can no longer be an automatic assumption that it’s OK to slash many thousands of extra hospital beds – unless and until there really are better alternatives in place for patients.

‘That’s why before major service changes are given the green light, they’ll now need to prove there are still going to be sufficient hospital beds to provide safe, modern and efficient care locally.’

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said initiatives to move care out of hospitals ‘cost money, require new staffing and take time to develop’.

He said: ‘Meanwhile GP shortages are rife and many community services have been cut. The truth is that many non-hospital services simply don’t have the capacity to care for the sheer numbers of patients that need it. 

‘Patients and staff alike will be reassured by Simon Stevens’ announcement today that hospital beds won’t close unless there are alternative services and the staff in place to run them.’

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