HUNDREDS of beds have been cut from hospitals in Scotland with more than 600 disappearing in a year.

New, official figures have revealed the squeeze on hospital capacity at a time when the number of patients who need to be admitted to wards is rising steadily.

Across Scotland there was on average 22,284 hospital beds in 2015-16, down from 22,955 the year before.

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Over the nine years since 2006-07 the number of hospital beds has dropped by more than 5000.

Policy makers justify the decrease by pointing to changes in the way patients are treated: People now spend less time in hospital before and after planned operations and some areas of treatment – such as mental health – are now delivered more in the community and less on hospital wards.

However, there are signs that hospital capacity in Scotland is under pressure. In August, new figures show more than 20 operations a day were cancelled by the NHS with lack of capacity among the reasons for the postponements.

Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour spokesman, said hospital bed numbers could not be cut without investment in social care to look after people better in the community.

Mr Sarwar said: “More than 5,000 fewer hospital beds since the SNP took office is a staggering statistic. Labour wants to see more Scots receive the dignity of care in their own home. However, under the SNP we see thousands of patients, particularly vulnerable elderly patients, stuck in hospital beds unable to get home because care packages are in place. Scots will wonder why we are cutting so many beds whilst we still have such a problem with delayed discharge.

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“This can’t go on – the SNP is cutting beds without delivering the necessary resources into social care.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton called on Scottish ministers to give health boards the support they need, expressing concern about the 662 patients whose operations were cancelled in August.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “There are any number of medical reasons why an operation may have to be delayed but the hard fact is that the NHS is sending hundreds of patients home before they have their operation because of capacity issues. This is bad for patients, bad for their families and it will be no picnic for NHS staff either.

“It often seems that there is no part of our NHS that is not under real strain. GPs are struggling. Nurses are overstretched. Cancer targets have been missed. Children have been forced to wait two years for mental health treatment. This is a picture of a health service under enormous pressure.”

Hospital bed numbers in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Scotland's largest health board, fell by 153 between 2014/15 and 2015/16.

The health board admitted this was due to a reduction in bed numbers linked to the opening of the new Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

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In a statement the health board said: “We have always made clear that once our acute hospital services were reconfigured, we would see an overall reduction of acute inpatient beds across the whole of NHS GGC. This was in response to increases in day surgery, community alternatives to admission and a reduction in the time patients actually spend in hospital.”

However, they said there were more beds for receiving emergency patients and “a significant reduction in inpatient mental health beds has also been achieved as we have developed and invested heavily in community alternatives to inpatient admission.”

The health board added: “The absolute necessity to be able to disinvest from the acute sector and invest the community is key to ensuring that the model of services we have developed for Greater Glasgow and Clyde works.”

Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “As medicine has developed, and treatment improved, patients are spending less time in hospitals and, like other countries with developed health systems, hospital bed numbers have reduced.

“It should also be noted that health and social care partnerships have increased the number of intermediate care beds they provide, with 700 such beds now available across Scotland, which are not captured in the bed statistics.

“NHS boards and their partners are strengthening their winter capability for this year to support admission avoidance and delayed discharge, and are developing contingency plans to open additional staffed acute beds if needed.”