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5 January 2022

How the UK trails its European neighbours for hospital capacity

Britain has fewer hospital beds per head than Germany, France and Italy.

By Patrick Scott

Boris Johnson has resisted calls to introduce tougher Covid-19 restrictions in England, deciding instead to attempt to “ride out” the Omicron wave with no changes to the government’s existing Plan B measures.

Hospitalisation figures are perhaps the one thing that could force the Prime Minister to U-turn. Throughout the pandemic, the government’s defining aim has been to ensure that the NHS doesn’t become overwhelmed.

Emergency plans to increase hospital capacity are being rolled out across the country but the UK starts from a weaker position than many of its nearest neighbours. Pre-pandemic figures from the World Bank show that the UK only has 2.5 hospital beds per 1,000 people compared with 3.1 in Italy, 5.9 in France and eight in Germany.


The UK’s hospital capacity has steadily declined from 10.7 beds per 1,000 people in the 1960s to 4.1 at the turn of the century, and just 2.5 per 1,000 in 2019.

[See also: How the number of NHS beds in England has halved]

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