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NHS Hospitals (Bed Occupancy)

Volume 564: debated on Tuesday 11 June 2013

Average annual bed occupancy rates for all NHS beds open overnight have remained stable between 84% and 87% since 2000. The Government do not set optimal bed occupancy rates for the NHS. NHS hospitals need to manage their beds effectively in order to cope with peaks in both routine and emergency clinical demand.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said, but the Royal College of Physicians has warned that this winter there were more black alerts—when a hospital has no beds available—than there were over the previous 10 years combined. What urgent action are the Government taking to reduce bed occupancy levels and prevent next winter being even worse?

We had this debate last week. The long-term pressures on the NHS, as we know, are the result of an aging population, with increasing numbers of older people arriving in A and E with complex needs, so the challenge is to ensure that they are better treated in the community. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister of State launched the integrated care pilots last month. We are also seeing more patients treated as day cases than ever before. About 80% of elective admissions are now treated as day cases, which shows a massive improvement in the speed and quality of care in the NHS.

Kettering general hospital is located in an area that has one of the fastest growing populations in the country and above-average growth in the number of patients aged 80 or over. What more can be done to send the correct signals to local authorities that they need to act quicker to get elderly patients out of hospital once they have been treated so that they can have the care they need in the community, thus freeing up hospital beds?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that local authorities have a key role to play in integrated care. That is why in April this year the Government set up local health and wellbeing boards, which will bring about greater integration of care between the NHS, housing providers and social care locally. That will hopefully ensure that across the country we have a much greater focus on local health care needs and, in particular, on better supporting older people and people with long-term disabilities at home and keeping them out of hospital.

A moment ago the Minister mentioned more elderly people coming in through A and E, and I want to present the House with new, deeply troubling evidence of that. Nobody wants to think of a very frail elderly person with no other support at home having to come to A and E by ambulance, but that is what increasing numbers of elderly people are having to do. Buried in the general A and E figures is an appalling increase in people aged over 90 coming to A and E by blue-light ambulance, which is up by 66%, equivalent to more than 100,000 of the most vulnerable people in our society. That is an appalling failure and a sign of something seriously wrong in the way we care for older people, and it is set to get worse as home care is cut further this year. Will he investigate that increase urgently and act now to prevent the collapse of social care?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—there is almost an outbreak of consensus across the Dispatch Boxes on this issue. We both recognise, rightly, that there is a long-term challenge in providing more integrated, joined-up care to better look after older people. However, it is ironic that he should raise that concern, because a previous Minister in the other place, the noble Lord Warner, has made the case very clearly that the previous Government failed to invest adequately in elderly care throughout their time in office. That is why this Government—I hope that we can count on the right hon. Gentleman’s support for this—are investing in health and social care, more integrated services at a local level through health and wellbeing boards and—

Order. The answers are too long. They need to get shorter, because we have a lot to get through. It is very simple and very clear.

Given that we have the lowest ratio of intensive care beds in the EU, what are the Government doing to monitor possible risks in future?

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that historically there have been challenges with intensive care beds. We are now seeing increases in some areas of intensive care, particularly paediatric intensive care and paediatric cots, to ensure that there is greater support in that service, but he is absolutely right that we need a greater emphasis on specialist centres focused on intensive care. That is something that the NHS Commissioning Board, NHS England, is focused on delivering. We need to ensure that across each region of the country there is more focused care and more specialist intensive care.