Tory austerity policies “ripped resilience out of health and care service” before Covid-19, a report has found.
Cuts to social and community care left four in five hospitals with “dangerously low” on spare beds according to the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).
Four in five hospitals had bed occupancy levels above the acceptable safe limit of 85%. In three out of five hospitals, bed occupancy exceeded 90%.
England had just 700 open and unoccupied intensive care beds at the end of 2019. The South West had access to the least, just 51.
The report concluded that for the UK to meet top international standards the UK would need 49,600 more care workers, 70,000 more doctors and 220,000 more nurses.
While the NHS in England was not overrun by Covid-19, the lack of capacity in the health system forced government to make harmful policy choices.
This included two million cancelled ‘non-urgent’ or ‘routine’ treatments, the delayed screening, treatment or diagnosis of cancer for 2.4 million people, and a mass discharge of thousands of patients.
The latter contributed to the staggering UK death toll in care homes.
Lead author Chris Thomas, IPPR senior research fellow, said: “For more than a decade, health and care has been ruled by a brutal austerity logic – championed by people who said it would make the UK more efficient.
“Covid-19 has shown they were wrong. Far from making public services more efficient, austerity stripped resilience out of the health and care service – taking away beds, devastating social care, pushing staff out of the sector, and ignoring public health.
“Covid-19 is one of the most devastating disasters in history. After an earthquake, you’d build earthquake-proof structures. After Covid-19, we need crisis-proof healthcare.”
The UK currently spends £27.7 billion less on health annually, relative to the size of its economy than the average among G7 developed nations.