The NHS in England has “insufficient” intensive care beds, hospital leaders have said.
NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, said the pandemic has highlighted that there is not enough critical care capacity in the health service.
It said that England is “towards the bottom” of the league table for critical care beds, falling behind Germany, the US, France, Italy, Australia and Spain.
The organisation’s chief executive said that it is “neither safe nor sensible” to increase capacity of intensive care beds “at the drop of a hat” as he called for a review into the critical care system going forward.
Chris Hopson also drew attention to regional disparities, with the East of England, South West and South East in particular falling short.
Mr Hopson said in a statement: “Trusts’ experience of Covid-19 has strongly confirmed what we already knew – that the NHS has insufficient critical care capacity.
“We now need a formal review of what critical care capacity is required going forward.
“It’s neither safe nor sensible to rely on NHS hospital trusts being able to double or triple their capacity at the drop of a hat as they’ve had to over the last two months, with all the disruption to other care and impossible burdens on staff that involves.
“The review needs to look at the overall level of critical care capacity – the UK is towards the bottom of the European league table for critical care beds per head of population.
“Whilst the UK has 7.3 critical care beds per 100,000 people, Germany has 33.8 and the USA 34.3. We also have comparatively fewer critical care beds than France, Italy, Australia and Spain.”
He added: “The review also needs to look at the spread of critical care beds across the seven different regions in England.
“Many trusts are clear they have insufficient capacity but the problem seems particularly acute in the East of England, South West and South East.
“The review also needs to assess whether we have the right spread of critical care beds within each region, with the right balance between proximity to patients and an understandable need to concentrate expertise.”
He said the review should also examine critical care transport services and trusts’ ability to add “surge capacity” when needed.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Government is determined to back the NHS in every possible way in its fight against this virus, investing £52 billion this year and £20 billion next.
“This is on top of £9.4 billion capital funding to build and upgrade 40 new hospitals and £3 billion earmarked for supporting recovery and reducing the NHS waiting list.
“We know how integral staffing is, and there are a record number of qualified doctors working in our NHS, with over 6,500 more doctors and over 10,500 more nurses compared to the previous year, and the Government is on track to deliver 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament.”
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