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New health minister urged to act on 10% fall in hospital beds since 2011

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TUV MLA Jim Allister said the fall in the number of available beds for patients across the health service has become a major issue.

TUV MLA Jim Allister said the fall in the number of available beds for patients across the health service has become a major issue.

PA Wire/PA Images

TUV MLA Jim Allister said the fall in the number of available beds for patients across the health service has become a major issue.

The number of beds available for hospital patients on a daily basis across Northern Ireland has fallen by 10% over the past decade.

In Belfast alone the number has dropped by more than 20%, from 2,402 in 2011 to a low of 1,967 in 2019, new figures have revealed.

The figures were obtained by TUV MLA Jim Allister, who has called on the new Health Minister Robin Swann to act urgently to reverse the downward trend.

"This huge rundown in the number of available hospital beds over the last decade is both the consequence of deliberate Executive policy and has been a major contributor to the current crisis," he said.

"This Stormont made policy has failed. Together with the folly of ending pay parity it has led us, in significant measure, to where we are.

"Are bed reductions set to continue as Executive policy?"

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "There is no policy to reduce overall bed numbers within hospitals. "There is, however, a policy to reduce patients' length of stay in hospital, particularly so in older people.

"We are increasingly able to provide much more appropriate healthcare without the need to admit patients to hospital. Acute Care at Home is an example of this where older patients can be treated in their own home by professional staff without the need for hospital admission. Many surgical procedures previously requiring admission are now carried out on a day case basis.

"There will undoubtedly be challenges in meeting this demand. It is wrong to assume that increasing the number of hospital beds to deal with pressures always represents the best outcome for patients.

"Supporting patients to return to a community or a home setting in a timely way once medically fit to leave hospital ensures they receive the ongoing care they require in the most appropriate place and regain a level of independence quicker.

"Investment is required in many areas. Bed numbers across the Health and Social Care system will be kept under constant review in order to ensure that the system maintains the necessary capacity to meet patients' needs in the most appropriate setting.

Yesterday the Belfast Telegraph reported 22,001 people had died while on health service waiting lists in the last five years.

The most recent official figures show a record 306,180 people were on a waiting list.

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