The outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the existence of a hospital bed shortage in Italy, as a result of a longstanding trend. The article analyses this process by an international comparison with other Western European countries, highlighting the intensity of hospital bed reduction in Italy, as a fundamental component of NHS rationalisation. Although it was based on solid grounds, international data suggest that hospital bed reduction was probably excessive, depriving the NHS of organisational slack. Moreover, de-hospitalisation would have been matched with a stronger development of primary and community care. The relative shortage of these services, along with the lack of integrated networks between hospital and non-hospital care, explains many difficulties experienced by hospitals in tackling Covid patients. Beyond investments in health care, these elements call to re-think the organisation of health care provision at local level, questioning the purchaser-provider split.
Keywords: hospital beds; hospital care; Covid-19; epidemiological transition; intensive care; primary care.