ALMOST 1,200 hospital beds have disappeared from wards around Scotland in just two years, official figures have shown.
The drop comes despite the number of patients in acute specialities and A&E units being at a ten-year high.
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The SNP government is now facing accusations that it has taken its “eye off the ball” on frontline services such as the NHS as it focused on the independence campaign.
Health campaigners and professionals have recently issued stark warnings over the state of Scotland’s hospitals, amid concerns of staff and capacity shortages. Bed shortages are already being blamed for operations being cancelled.
The latest national picture has emerged in figures obtained by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.
“The SNP in government spent so long campaigning for independence that they took their eye off the ball,” Lib Dem health spokesman Jim Hume said. “These figures show in black and white that as a result, over 1,000 beds have been lost from Scotland’s hospitals in the space of just two years.
“It’s little wonder that more patients are being treated in the wrong department, waiting times aren’t being met and patients are being kept in hospital despite being clinically ready to leave.”
The official health services figures released by the Lib Dems show a reduction of 1,174 beds in Scottish hospitals between 2011-12 and 2013-14. The biggest fall was in NHS Glasgow and Clyde where 398 beds have gone, and NHS Ayrshire and Arran which reduced by 195.
Recent years have seen a shift towards treating more people at home where this is appropriate. But the head of one NHS board recently voiced “grave concerns” about the number of patients still being looked after in hospitals who are well enough to leave – but can’t because they need care set up in the community. Allan Burns, chairman of NHS Fife, said “bed blocking” is at a three-year high and costing NHS Fife £3.6 million a year.
Mr Hume added: “We were promised that integrating health and social care would take pressure off hospitals. But the jumbled approach of cutting beds without proper community care in place has resulted in patients bearing the brunt of SNP mismanagement.”
It emerged earlier this month that a lack of beds was among the factors in the cancellation of almost 3,000 elective surgeries in Tayside in 2013, along with staff shortages, equipment failure and administrative errors.
The Scottish Government insists that the number of acute beds – where patients are treated for immediate conditions such as severe injury or illness or when they are recovering from surgery – has remained “broadly static” in the past two years. This means that the bulk of the beds lost have been used for patients with chronic or long term conditions.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman added: “A recent Scottish Government survey also showed that the number of intermediate care beds was currently around 500, with 200 more being created before the end of March.
“The creation of more intermediate care is an example of how our recent £10m investment in tackling delayed discharge, along with £18m for Unscheduled Care and winter preparations, will be used and further shows how the Scottish Government is supporting our health and social care in shifting more services into community settings.”
A report by public spending watchdog Audit Scotland earlier this year warned that the NHS “faces significant pressures” managing finances, meeting targets and making changes to services.
Labour health spokeswoman Jenny Marra said: “When Nicola Sturgeon was in opposition she promised to increase the number of available hospital beds in Scotland. Instead under the SNP our hospital beds are disappearing faster than almost anywhere else in the western world. More than 6,000 beds have been withdrawn from Scottish hospitals over the last ten years.”
BMA Scotland chairman Dr Peter Bennie said last week that there was “huge reliance” on the goodwill of staff across Scotland to keep things going. But he warned: “This is not a sustainable solution.”
Earlier this month, nursing leaders questioned the “positive picture” painted by NHS Scotland in its annual report.
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