THE number of beds available in Gwent hospitals has fallen by more than 500 in the past 10 years.

The reduction of more than a fifth has come as first Gwent Healthcare Trust, then its successor Aneurin Bevan Health Board, have remodelled services to bring more treatment and care into the community.

In Gwent, there were an average 1,815.6 NHS hospital beds available daily during 2011/12, compared to 2,339.5 in 2001/02.

That is a 22.4 per cent fall, above the all-Wales figure of 18.4 per cent, and the third highest of Wales' eight NHS bodies (seven health boards and Velindre NHS Trust).

Only Powys Health Board, which has far fewer hospital beds than other parts of Wales and no acute beds, and the north Wales area overseen by Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board have recorded a higher percentage of bed reductions.

Among the factors contributing to falling bed numbers here and in the rest of Wales are shorter post-operative stays in hospital across a range of specialties.

Average lengths of stay have fallen by more than a day in many areas, with hospitals increasingly seeking to admit patients on the day of their surgery, where appropriate, rather than the previous day.

In Gwent, the day of surgery admission rate was 70 per cent in July this year, compared to 50 per cent in summer 2010.

Increasing numbers of patients are also having operations as day surgery procedures, rather than requiring a longer stay, linked in part to improved discharge systems and wider use of laparascopic (keyhole) technology.

Gwent's multi-million pound Frailty Programe too, is beginning to have an effect on bed use, with more older patients being targeted to receive treatment and care at home, provided by multi-skilled community resource teams.

Around 15,000 bed days were saved through the programme in its first year, and more than 20 beds have closed at St Woolos hospital in Newport as a result.

Overall, daily bed occupancy rates have risen since 2001/02, the rate in Gwent up to 88.3 per cent last year, compared to 82.3 per cent 10 years ago.

Given the reductions over 10 years for reasons outlined above, this may indicate there were too many beds back then, but maintaining some 'give' in the system is important too, to ensure beds are available if demand increases.