Cut hospital beds and you can improve the NHS17 March 2010
The UK is in the midst of a beneficial health care revolution.
New skills and new technology, such as keyhole surgery, are allowing more patients to be treated at home. New medications, such as statins, can allow people to manage their own treatment. Advances in clinical skill and technology have enabled this to happen.
These changes save money - and the traditional hospital is both expensive for the nation and inconvenient for the patient. Hospitals are the '19th century infrastructure' of the health service, and are no longer able to meet the needs of 21st century health care.
Now and in the future modern health services will focus on improving the quality of life for patients with long term conditions. That is a service for which the traditional local hospital is ill suited. As former health minister Lord Darzi has claimed: 'The days of the district general hospital are over.'
The NHS in England has been able to close on average 6,000 hospital beds a year for the last 20 years and with the public finances in crisis the NHS should not be immune from the drive to reduce public spending.
The UK's fiscal crisis presents an opportunity to reform the NHS to deliver value for money and better healthcare. Every region in England is currently drawing up plans to change their hospital services, which must be submitted to the Department of Health at the end of this month.
Despite the fall in hospital beds over the last 20 years, our research suggests that there are still too many hospitals in the North East, the North West and London. There are 40 per cent more hospital beds per head of population, for example, in the North East than in the South of England.
Throughout our research we found that doctors and NHS managers are keen to innovate, find new ways to deliver services to patients and to save money. But too often they are blocked by politicians who put ideological considerations before patient care.
Patients and clinicians should lead the charge for a health service based on competition and innovation. Let us hope that in the new Parliament, we see local people marching to change their local wards and reduce beds rather than to save them.