30/03/2004

Fewer beds in Northern Ireland hospitals

Northern Ireland’s hospitals now have 704 fewer beds than six years ago.

This is according to DHSSPS figures published in response to a House of Commons question tabled by David Lidington MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Commenting on the report, RCN Northern Ireland Director Martin Bradley said: “The fact that there are 700 fewer beds available to in-patients in Northern Ireland now than there were in 1997 is accompanied by the fact that there are also fewer nurses.

"The results of last year's RCN report More Nurses, Working Differently revealed that, since 1990, England has had a 15% increase in nursing staff and Scotland has a 5% increase while in Northern Ireland the number of nursing staff has actually fallen by 6%."

In addition, the number of patients being treated, including the number being treated on a day case basis, has risen. Between 1997 and 2002 there was a 10% rise in in-patients and a 33% rise in day cases.

"This has put great pressure on the health services here," Mr Bradley added. "The health care system is moving faster and faster to keep up with demand. The decline in beds, while not the only issue, is a contributing factor to the trolley-waits we have seen in accident and emergency departments across Northern Ireland.

"This is a worrying trend because, in order to commission more in-patient capacity, we need to continue to find ways of increasing the number of nurses. At the moment it is evident that the system is having great difficulty keeping pace with this demand.”

Over the past two decades, the number of hospital beds in Northern Ireland has decreased by more than 40%.

(MB)

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