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  • Between 1987/88 and 2015/16 the total average daily number of overnight beds in England decreased by 166,240 (56%) from 297,364 in 1987/88 to 130,944 in 2015/16*.
  • The average number of available overnight beds for mental illness and learning disability decreased by a larger proportion than maternity and general and acute beds.
  • In the same time period, the average daily number of available day beds increased by 10,296 (615%).

The number of available hospital beds in England has been falling in recent decades, a trend that is also seen across Europe. Many of these decreases have been intentional through an aim to reduce the number of admissions and the length of patients’ stay in hospital with the goal for treatment occurring in an outpatient setting or patient recovery at home where suitable. In addition, advancing medical technology has allowed for reduced recovery time and day case operations (OECD (2012), Hospital beds, in Health at a Glance: Europe 2012).

Data available from NHS England includes the average daily number of available overnight beds in terms of sectors including general and acute, learning disabilities, maternity beds and mental illness.

Generally the number of available beds has fallen across all of these sectors with the most significant relative decrease occurring in the number of available learning disability beds which decreased from 33,421 in 1987/88 to 1,310 in 2015/16*. This is 4% of the original number of available beds. General and acute beds make up the majority of overnight beds; available general and acute beds have decreased by 43% from 180,889 to 102,841 between 1987/88 and 2015/16*. The number of available maternity and mental illness beds fell by 51% and 72% respectively in the same time period.

An aim to reduce the number and length of hospital stays may reflect the increase in the number of available day beds for which the average daily number of available beds has increased by 10,296 (615%) from 1987/88 to 2015/16*.

*Note 2015/16 is only available up to Q3, so an average of Q1-Q3 was used for this year.


Data source:

NHS England. Bed availability and Occupancy data 2009/10 and 2015/16.

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