NHS hospitals lose 32,000 beds in a decade
Extract from the Telegraph:
"More than 40 per cent of maternity units turned away women in labour last year because they had no room.
Meanwhile, ambulances have been forced to queue outside overstretched hospitals, treating patients in car parks just yards from accident and emergency departments. The new statistics, revealed in response to a parliamentary question by Ed Vaizey, the Conservative MP, show that almost 32,000 NHS hospital beds went between 1997, when Labour took office, and 2007.
More than 8,400 beds were cut in the year ending March 2007, the largest fall in 14 years. One in six beds has been closed over the decade. There are now 167,019 beds in NHS wards, compared with 198,848 in 1997.
The figures emerged as health authorities are drawing up plans which will see the likely closure of dozens of district general hospitals. The East of England health authority has admitted that two accident and emergency departments and a maternity unit could close.
Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, said the Government's financial mismanagement had forced hospitals to make cuts which could risk lives. "These bed cuts were financially driven: the sharp rise in the numbers closed happened at a time when the health service was under desperate pressure to clear a massive deficit."
Katherine Murphy, from the Patients Association, said: "This is a national scandal. More than 30,000 beds have been lost at a time when demand is increasing."
In the same decade that the beds were cut, death rates from the infections MRSA and Clostridium difficile rose five-fold. Investigations into the biggest C. diff outbreak in Britain, which killed 90 patients at hospitals run by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells trust in 2005 and 2006, found that overcrowding amid pressure to meet hospital waiting targets was a factor behind the infection's spread.
More than 2,000 maternity beds have been lost since 1997. Research by the Conservatives found that last year, 42 per cent of maternity units had refused to accept women in labour on at least one occasion."