SCOTLAND has the lowest number of hospital beds since modern records began, according to the official annual count.
Public Health Scotland said the average daily number of staffed beds for acute specialities was 12,869 in 2020/21, down 9.5 per cent over the last decade.
When current records began in 2011/12, the figure was 14,227 acute beds per day.
In the last year, the number fell by 335, down 2.5% on 2019/20, and 6.9% down on 2015/16, the first full year in which Nicola Sturgeon was First Minister.
Opposition parties criticised the cuts, saying they “beggared belief” given the pressures on the NHS.
Acute beds are used for emergency treatment,routine, complex and life-saving surgery, and specialist diagnostic procedures.
Last year’s fall coincided with a fall in occupancy from 85.8% to 74.7% because of the Covid pandemic and the reduction in procedures being conducted.
The latest NHS Scotland figures for admissions and discharges also showed almost 900,000 patients admitted to hospital in 2020/21, some 30% fewer than 2019/20/.
This was in addition to 673,000 people who visited an outpatient department, taking the total number of attendances to approximately 3m, 28% fewer than 2019/20.
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “It simply beggars belief to see beds being cut at this crucial time.
“Ambulances are queued down the street, people are waiting months for vital surgery, and consultants are crying out for more beds.
“It is dangerously negligent for the SNP to be cutting capacity instead of ramping it up.
“However long their list of excuses might be, the truth is our NHS is in crisis because of the SNP’s mismanagement.
“Lives are on the line. We urgently need a real plan to restore our NHS before winter hits.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton accused Nicola Sturgeon of making “wildly unrealistic” claims about NHS capacity in light of the fall.
He said: “Year after year, fewer and fewer beds are available in our NHS. In fact Nicola Sturgeon has presided over a 7% drop since she took over as First Minister.
“Nicola Sturgeon claims that the Scottish Government are going to increase NHS activity by 10%. That is wildly unrealistic given the meagre resources they are making available to the NHS and the figures we are seeing today.”
Scottish Tory MSP Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “Scotland’s hospitals remain short of beds under the SNP. Our frontline staff are now feeling the damaging impact of long-term cuts to acute beds.
“The pandemic has completely exposed how the SNP has been slow to act in recent years. They have failed to guarantee our hospitals have the beds they require to support patients.
“Nicola Sturgeon dodged questions on the number of beds last week in the Scottish Parliament, instead of setting out exactly how many more beds we need and how many had been delivered, as the public expects.
“The SNP Government is only reacting when the situation reaches breaking point. The last-minute rush to paper over problems is not going to cut it in the coming months when we expect Scotland’s NHS to experience one of the most difficult winters in recent times.”
The Scottish Government said the decrease in acute beds was lower than the 6.5% recorded in England and explained that health boards “regularly adjust the number of staffed beds to reflect actual and projected demand”.
A spokesperson said: “Long-term there has been a significant move towards more procedures carried out as day cases and reducing lengths of stay, to the benefit of patients.
“The biggest reduction in acute beds has been on the surgical side with advances in practice meaning more day surgery is able to be carried out reducing the need for overnight stays.
“Funding of £7.8m has been allocated to NHS Boards to support an increase in ICU bed availability, increasing the baseline capacity by 30 beds from 173 to 203 ahead for winter 2021/22. The full-year funding for 2022/23 is £15.6m.
“The Scottish Government will also launch the Discharge without Delay Programme this month which aims to prevent delays in the patients’ journey through a home-first approach.
“This will ensure that patients are discharged as soon as they are medically fit, avoiding unnecessary delays in hospital.”