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Regional plans to cut acute beds ‘not credible’, says King’s Fund


21 February 2017

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Proposals to cut the number of hospital beds as part of regional plans to overhaul healthcare in England are ‘not credible’, a think tank has said.

In a new report, The King’s Fund said that plans to reduce hospital capacity are only realistic if there are also plans to invest in community services first.

Chris Ham, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said some areas might be able to make ‘small reductions’ in the number of acute hospital beds.

Proposals to cut the number of hospital beds as part of regional plans to overhaul healthcare in England are ‘not credible’, a think tank has said.

In a new report, The King’s Fund said that plans to reduce hospital capacity are only realistic if there are also plans to invest in community services first.

Chris Ham, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said some areas might be able to make ‘small reductions’ in the number of acute hospital beds.

But, he said, the winter pressures on hospital services mean nearly all acute hospitals are already ‘operating at or beyond their limits’.

He said: ‘We see no prospect realistically of the plans, that are saying they want to reduce acute hospital beds, being implemented in the way that was intended before the winter pressures became as evident as they are today.’

The report notes the Derbyshire sustainability and transformation plan (STP) in particular, which plans to close 400 beds by 2020/21.

Ham said: ‘That is simply not credible given the state of our acute hospitals this winter, which is likely to be similar next winter.’

The STPs were submitted to NHS England at the end of October, before the extent of this year’s winter pressures were fully known.

Some STPs have already begun to review the closure of acute beds, with Cheshire and Merseyside withdrawing their plan to close a hospital ‘on maturer reflection’, said Ham.

He said: ‘We do not think now is the time to start cutting back on acute hospital beds and capacity anything like on the scale set out in some of the plans.’

He added: ‘So we would hope the draft STPs from last October will be stress tested in light of what's happened in the five months since then.’

Ham also said that to cope with capacity issues, some trusts have started investing their NHS resources into social care, particularly in the east of England and in Frimley STP.

He said: ‘That wouldn't have happened three or four years ago. They're being forced to because the only way they can start unblocking beds is to buy access to care home beds or to use NHS funds to start paying for home care packages.’

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