The NHS has been closing hospital beds steadily since 1948. On the appointed day in England and Wales the NHS took over 1,143 voluntary hospitals with some 90,000 beds, and 1,545 municipal hospitals with about 390,000 beds (including 190,000 in mental illness and mental handicap hospitals).  Now there are only about half as many beds.

In 1948 bed rest was the most widespread treatment – indeed often the only treatment – for many conditions.

It is always assumed that the first thing in any illness is to put the patient to bed. Hospital accommodation is always numbered in beds. Illness is measured by the length of time in bed. Doctors are assessed by their bedside manner. Bed is not ordered like a pill or a purge, but is assumed as the basis for all treatment. Yet we should think twice before ordering our patients to bed and realise that beneath the comfort of the blanket there lurks a host of formidable dangers.  (Dr Richard Asher, physician at the Central Middlesex Hospital, 1947)

Asher pointed to the risks of chest infection, deep vein thrombosis in the legs, bed sores, stiffening of muscles and joints, osteoporosis and, indeed, mental change and demoralisation. He ended with a parody of a well-known hymn:

Teach us to live that we may dread
Unnecessary time in bed.
Get people up and we may save
Our patients from an early grave.

Hospital Bed numbers

How do we compare with other countries?

Hospital beds per 1000 population OECD 2011

Total hospital beds, Per 1000 population

 

2011 (or nearest year)

Australia

3.8

Austria

7.7

Belgium

6.4

Canada

2.8

Chile

2.2

Czech Republic

6.8

Denmark

3.5

Estonia

5.3

Finland

5.5

France

6.4

Germany

8.3

Greece

4.9

Hungary

7.2

Iceland

3.3

Ireland

3.0

Israel

3.3

Italy

3.4

Japan

13.4

Korea

9.6

Luxembourg

5.4

Mexico

1.7

Netherlands

4.7

New Zealand

2.8

Norway

3.3

Poland

6.6

Portugal

3.4

Slovak Republic

6.1

Slovenia

4.6

Spain

3.2

Sweden

2.7

Switzerland

4.9

Turkey

2.5

United Kingdom

3.0

United States

3.1

OECD AVERAGE

4.8                       

These are OECD figures.  Thanks to John Lister for finding them

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