Source: NHS England, KH03 data collection

The chart above shows the trend in the average daily number of overnight beds available in NHS hospitals in England between 1987/88 and 2014/15. Since 2000/01, data has been available for the average number of occupied beds, in addition to available beds.

In 2014/15, the average daily number of available overnight beds in English NHS hospitals was 137,088; of these, 89 per cent were occupied. Over this time period, the average daily number of beds has more than halved, and yet the occupancy rate has remained relatively steady at between 84 per cent and 89 per cent. 

This has been possible despite rising demand because of medical and health service advances that have both shifted the setting of care for patients and led to a switch to day cases treatment (an increase in day-only beds is seen over a similar time period).

Our analysis shows that demand for treatment will continue to rise in future as the population changes. The NHS will have to continue to find new ways to deal with this.

NHS England collects quarterly information on all NHS organisations that operate beds, ordinary or day case (the KH03 collection). The collection provides the total number of available bed days and the total number of occupied bed days by consultant main specialty and sector (general and acute, mental illness, learning disability and maternity). Prior to 2010/11 the KH03 was an annual return collecting beds by ward classification. Since the data are collected as a snapshot census, the data presented in this analysis after this time point show quarter 4 of each financial year to represent the full financial year. Data were accurate at the time of analysis (July 2015).

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