“The UK has the third-lowest number of hospital beds per person in the European Union as well as the third-lowest number of doctors, with only Romania and Poland worse off, a European Commission report has found.
The report, which compared the 28 EU countries, warned that hospitals will struggle to cope with the winter crisis predicted by many doctors and NHS managers as intensive care beds were full even during the summer.
It warned of the UK’s “limited capacity to absorb shocks”, adding: “Difficulties finding beds have introduced inefficiencies.”
Ian Eardley, vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said Britain’s low ranking in the report should act as “a wake-up call for NHS leaders” and that the cuts have “now gone too far”.
He said: “Bed shortages lead to cancelled operations and patients waiting longer for treatment. Some will find themselves in pain for longer, possibly unable to go about their daily life. In the worst cases their condition may deteriorate while they wait.”
Last week doctors in intensive care units (ICUs) — where the sickest patients are given life support — said they were also nervous about the coming weeks.
Dr Christopher Bassford, a consultant in intensive care at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, said: “At our intensive care unit we have operated at 100% capacity or over for most of the summer. This winter we are anxious.”
Dr Gary Masterson, president of the Intensive Care Society, added: “It does feel as if we are on the cusp. This [bed occupancy at 100%] is the norm for many ICUs. It is right to worry about ability to cope should we have a busy winter.”
Bed occupancy runs at over 100% when more than one patient uses the bed during a 24-hour period.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, recently warned that doctors would need to make drips out of coat hangers this winter because of the anticipated shortage of beds and equipment.
While the number of doctors working in the NHS has increased, the report also found the UK still near the bottom of the EU league table. It said: “There have been steady increases in recent decades, despite which the number of doctors per 1,000 of the population was the third lowest in the EU.”
NHS England said: “These figures show our NHS is much more efficient than other countries such as France or Germany in helping patients avoid emergency hospitalisations, and we do so despite spending less and having fewer nurses and doctors than they do.”
Sunday Times (pay wall)