NHS ‘ghost wards’: 1,400 beds unused due to lack of staff or funding

Labour calls for action over ‘scandal’ of ward closures amid bed shortages crisis

NHS hospital
The NHS ‘winter crisis’ fuelled the need for more beds
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

More than 1,400 NHS beds lie empty in 82 “ghost wards” in English hospitals, according to new figures released amid reports of reports of an ongoing bed shortages crisis.

The data, obtained under freedom of information laws by Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, shows that 1,429 hospital beds in NHS England trusts were unused as of September 2017 - almost three times more than the 502 recorded in 2013.

The ghost wards represent “the equivalent of two entire hospitals”, The Guardian reports, at a time when the health service has endured its “toughest winter for many years, during which many hospitals ran out of beds”.

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The scale of the situation is “amazing”, Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, told the newspaper. Ward closures were “almost always” caused by a lack of money or staff, he said.

“In years and years of trying to balance books and achieve ‘efficiency’ savings, many hospitals will have taken the opportunities to shut clinical areas if they at all can,” Scriven added.

Ashworth said the closure of wards at a time of intense strain on NHS capacity was a “scandal”.

“We’ve just had doctors warning that the ‘winter crisis’ is likely to stretch into the summer and now our research reveals the extent to which beds that could be used to care for sick patients have been locked away,” he said.

“Ministers should be ensuring beds are used at this time of crisis for the NHS.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said that Labour’s portrayal of “mothballed” wards was “misleading”, adding: “Trusts control the number of beds to meet demand and that’s why they were able to open 3,000 more at peak periods this winter.”

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