OPINION: Are there enough beds in our NHS?

Generic stock photo of a nurse on a ward. Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

Generic stock photo of a nurse on a ward. Photo: Rui Vieira/PA Wire - Credit: PA

It's been another tumultuous week for the region's mental health trust, as over the border in Suffolk there was an announcement that inpatient beds would be closed on Lark ward, at Ipswich Hospital.

There is a lot of talk in health at the moment about keeping people out of hospital, in the community.

This isn't only in mental health care - in an interview with the boss of Norfolk's new drug and alcohol service published in this newspaper today, she points towards more community care.

And over recent years hospitals have reduced their bed numbers as research showed patients recovered better at home with the right care and support in place.

But then what happens when someone does need a bed and there are none available?

We've seen this happen with tragic consequences in the past, and just last week a stroke patient from Northrepps was asked to move to a day room so another - presumably more severe - patient could use her bed.

And many of the problems faced by the region's ambulance trust over winter were because hospitals were too full to take patients off crews at the front door.Occupancy rates showed Norfolk hospitals were full at many points over winter, and were operating at levels considered safe for just three days.

There simply was no room at the inn.

It seems there is no buffer for when things get busy, when the demand is there.

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A stay in a hospital bed costs around £400 a day, so when the NHS is strapped for cash and trying to make savings where it can, it makes sense that unnecessary beds can be decommissioned.

And it is proven that spending time in a hospital bed cuts vital days, weeks, months or even years off the life of the elderly.

But now MPs in Suffolk are calling for management or even organisational change for mental health off the back of the new beds closures.

And the situation isn't much better in Norfolk - we still have beds but commissioners have ignored recommendations by councillors to fund more, despite the mental health trust saying they need them.

Regulators also told the trust they needed more beds in their inspection last year.

It is essential that when a patient needs a bed they get one, but it just does not seem to be possible when demand is at an all time high.