The last three years has seen the number of overnight hospital beds plunge by almost 10%, putting more and more pressure on GPs, official figures suggest.
In 2005/06, the number of hospital beds per 1,000 people in England stood at 2.14. This figure fell to 2.05 in 2006/07 and 1.98 in 2007/08.
Supplying the data, health minister Ben Bradshaw said the figures arose because more patients were now treated within a day, and did not need to stay overnight.
The minister, who produced the figures in response to a Parliamentary question from Tory MP James Gray, said as a result of this there had been a 47% rise in the number of day-only beds since 1997/98, while the number of beds in intensive care had also gone up.
But some medical professionals have said cost-cutting from the government means GPs are relied on to take up the slack.
Dr Jonathan Fielden, chairman of the consultants' committee for the British Medical Association, said: "While we have hospitals with this limited capacity – as we saw this winter – we will have more delays in getting patients in and we will be much more reliant on our GP colleagues to look after patients a bit longer and take them that little bit earlier."
Mr Bradshaw responded by saying experts agreed it was better to treat patients in the community or only admit them to hospital as day cases.