Scotland has fewer hospital beds than at any time in the last decade, new figures show.
There were 12,869 staffed beds available on average each day last year, a 9.5% decrease from the 14,227 per day in 2011-12 when the current records began.
Bed numbers free and staffed for acute patients have also fallen by 2.5% in the last year, although the numbers that were actually occupied dropped from 85.8% in 2019-20 to 74.7% in 2020-21.
The figures for available beds in acute settings include emergency treatment; routine, complex and life-saving surgery as well as specialist diagnostic procedures.
Beds used for giving birth, psychiatric services and long-stay care are not included in the Public Health Scotland figures.
The latest NHS Scotland figures for admissions and discharges also show there were almost 900,000 patients admitted to hospital in 2020-21 — 30% fewer than the previous year.
This was in addition to approximately 673,000 Scottish residents who visited an outpatient department in the last financial year, taking the total number of attendances to approximately three million, 28% fewer than 2019-20.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman suggested 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”.
She 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. Innovation and new ways of working will help drive the remobilisation of the NHS and provide the most efficient models of care.
“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.”
The spokeswoman added: “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.”
Responding to the figures, Scottish Conservative health spokesman, Dr Sandesh Gulhane MSP, 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 Liberal Democrat leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, added: “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 Liberal Democrats have set out a series of practical proposals to help get the NHS back on its feet, by giving staff a greater say over which innovations pioneered during the pandemic should be maintained and ensuring that our national health service has the support and resources it needs to flourish.”
Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman 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.”