In 1974 the health service maintained almost 400,000 beds and by last year, this figure had declined to 141,000.
The bulk of this fall is due to closures of beds for the long-term care of older people. Medical innovation, including an increase in day-case surgery, has also had an impact by reducing the time that many patients spend in hospital.
Most other advanced health care systems around the world have also reduced bed numbers in recent years. However, the UK has fewer acute beds relative to its population than many comparable health systems.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic there was widespread evidence of a growing shortage of beds. In 2019/20, overnight general and acute bed occupancy averaged 90.2%, and regularly exceeded 95% in winter, well above the level many consider safe.
Source: Kings Fund