[The 118,451 beds available] are something over a third of the 299,000 beds that the NHS had in 1987-88. Since then, numbers have fallen relentlessly. This has been driven by a rise in day-case surgery, recognition that being an inpatient can involve hospital-acquired infections and loss of muscle mass, and also the NHS’s often-professed but still unachieved ambition of keeping people out of hospital through better home-based care. Last year the NHS England boss, Simon Stevens, urged an end to bed cutting, but the fall has continued anyway.
The decline has been particularly marked since 2010, when the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government ushered in a decade of austerity funding for the NHS. That included a squeeze on capital funding, which the NHS uses to build facilities and buy equipment such as scanners, and also the exacerbation of shortages of nurses and doctors.