The NHS is stuck in the past and not fit for the 21st century, according to the new chief inspector for hospitals.
Professor Ted Baker said that the NHS missed its opportunity to modernise and invest in community services under the last Labour government.
In an interview with the Telegraph, he said: “One of the things I regret is that 15 or 20 years ago, when we could see the change in the population, the NHS did not change its model of care.
“It should have done it then – there was a lot more money coming in but we didn’t spend it all on the right things. We didn’t spend it on transformation of the model of care.”
The population has risen by 16% in the last thirty years, but the number of pensioners has increased by a third, many living with long-term, age-related illnesses.
Prof Baker, a former hospital medical director, added: “The model of care we have got is still the model we had in the sixties and seventies.
“That is the fundamental thing that needs to change; we need a model of care that is fit for the 21st century and the population as it is now.”
About half of hospital beds are now taken up by people who do not need to be there, he said.
He claimed many patients’ conditions would not have deteriorated if the NHS was better run, or they could have been discharged if the right community care was available.
The new head of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) also criticised accident and emergency units for unsafe practices such as leaving patients in corridors or letting ambulances queue up at the entrance.
Too many hospitals had “wholly unsatisfactory” arrangements that deprived patients of their privacy and their dignity.
He has written to all hospital chief executives calling for action to improve safety in A&E, citing fears the NHS could struggle to cope with an influx of patients this winter.
The CQC is due to issue a report next month on the state of the country’s health and care services, and is expected to highlight mounting pressures on hospitals and the danger of running out of beds and staff.