HL Deb 21 January 2003 vol 643 cc561-3

3.7 p.m.

Baroness Noakes asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the definition of a "bed" in the National Health Service has been modified.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the definition of a "bed" is published in the NHS Information Authority data dictionary. The definition is used to aid statistical returns. No recent change has been made in the definition.

Baroness Noakes

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he confirm that, in NHS-speak, a "bed" can be a trolley or even a chair? On 20th November 2002, he said that, last year saw the first increase for many years in the numbers of general and acute beds".—[Official Report, 20/11/02; col. 377.] Was he referring to extra beds or to trolleys and chairs?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the definition of a bed is the same today as it was when the previous government published it in 1992, when the NHS data dictionary was developed. As for the broad definition, to be a bed, the main purpose must be to allow patients to lie down for rest or recovery. Beds, trolleys, couches and chairs used for treatments are not counted as beds. The noble Baroness was also quite wrong on actual bed numbers. For the first time in many years, we have seen an increase in the number of general and acute beds. They are beds; they are not trolleys.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, will the Minister explain the statement in the newspaper this week that hospitals will no longer be allowed to rename corridors as wards? Is there a general renaming process going on or being resisted within the department?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, not at all. For statistical purposes and for the purposes of accurate returns regarding our accountability to Parliament, it is important that NHS organisations have a consistent approach in reporting their statistics. We clarified the point that the noble Baroness raises in order to ensure clarity and consistency of reporting. Our aim was to stop hospitals calling patients to say that they were admitted if they were not admitted to what could be described as a ward area. It was a case of tightening up the reporting criteria.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, accepting the definition of a bed which the noble Lord has given, can he explain why it is that three hospitals recently built under the private finance initiative, Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle, the University Hospital of North Durham and Bishop Auckland General Hospital, have many fewer beds than the hospitals they replaced?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, overall the number of beds in general and acute categories is increasing. The number of beds in individual hospitals is decided before it is decided under which route they should be financed. Therefore, it would be wrong for my noble friend to draw a conclusion that PFI hospital schemes are by themselves leading to a reduction in bed numbers. We aim to increase the number of beds. We are doing that. In the past two years we have seen the first increase in the number of general and acute beds for many, many years. We are also increasing the number of day care beds. We are expanding the NHS, not contracting it.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, the issue of beds and their definition arose in the context of whether or not the Government have achieved their targets on the elimination of mixed sex-wards. Have the Government eliminated those wards? Have they achieved the targets that they have set out on many occasions and which have slipped over the past few years?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, 95 per cent of NHS trusts meet the additional criteria set for mental health facilities; 98 per cent of NHS trusts provide single-sex sleeping accommodation for planned admissions; 93 per cent of NHS trusts provide properly segregated bathroom and toilet facilities for men and women; and over 98 per cent of NHS wards meet our guidelines. The remainder will comply once current building projects are completed.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the increase in the number of beds. Can he say what the increase has been in the occupancy rate?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the latest occupancy rate that I have for general and acute beds is 86 per cent in the year 2000–01. Some believe that the rate should come down. In guidance on emergency care the figure of 82 per cent is indicated as a reasonable figure. Clearly, we shall keep that under review.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether a bed has to have four feet flat on the floor or whether it can have wheels?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, beds can have wheels as that makes them easier to move. I am tempted to react to noble Lords the definition of a bed in the NHS data dictionary. However, I am conscious that some noble Lords wish to speak on other matters this afternoon. Therefore, I shall desist.

Earl Howe

My Lords, is it not the case that a trolley need not in some circumstances be a trolley in an accident and emergency department and that a trolley can, indeed, be a bed in a day care unit? Is it not true that a trolley can in fact mean anything that the NHS decides that it means?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the noble Earl is being a little unfair to the National Health Service. The whole point of having a bed definition is to achieve clarity and consistency of reporting. Beds in day units are counted separately from beds in the general and acute categories. Clearly, in a day unit a patient may have pre-assessment, treatment, and post-operative recovery in the same bed. That is why such beds are categorised separately. I make it clear that trolleys in A&E departments are not defined as beds and nor are trolleys in treatment rooms and wards.

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