Jeremy Hunt has rejected claims the NHS is facing a “humanitarian crisis” and argued that that the UK spends more than average for a rich country on the health service – despite having one of the worst hospital bed shortages in Europe.
The UK has 273 free hospital beds per 100,000 people, the 24th lowest of 27 European countries, according to Eurostat.
More than a dozen hospitals have reported that 100 per cent of their beds are in use, with one hospital in Essex remaining without a single free bed in any general or intensive care ward for 27 days in December.
Two patients died on trolleys in A and E and 42 emergency departments were forced to divert ambulances to other hospitals last week, twice the frequency of the same period last year.
The Health Secretary told Radio 4’s Today programme pressures in the NHS was less about overall funding than about consistency of provision.
He argued that the NHS now had more doctors, nurses and funding than ever, but explained what he called “very serious problems at some hospitals” by suggesting pressures were increasing in part because people are going to A and Es when they should not.
Germany has three times as many free beds as the UK, with 823 available beds per 100,000 people, while France has 621 free beds for the same population.
Only Denmark, Ireland and Sweden have fewer available hospital beds than the UK, which lags behind the EU average of 521 free beds per 100,000 people.
More than 70 per cent of hospital beds are occupied by emergency admissions, according to the King’s Fund, while 80 per cent of patients who stay in hospital for over two weeks are over 65.
Theresa May said an ageing population “brings pressures, particularly in the interface between the health service and social care”.
“Funding is now at record levels for the NHS, more money has been going in,” said the Prime Minister, sparking claims she was “in denial” over how the health service is struggling in real terms.
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