Warning over standards of care as NHS falls short on targets

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There has been a sharp rise in the number of patients who have waited more than a year for NHS care in England, according to a new report which paints a bleak picture of the NHS’ performance and finances.

More than 2,600 people have waited more than a year for treatment and half of the nation’s “best performing” accident and emergency departments are unable to meet waiting time standards, according to the latest quarterly performance figures from NHS Improvement.

Meanwhile, the NHS provider sector ended the financial year with a deficit of £960 million – £464 million above the plan set for the year.

NHS providers in England were almost a billion in the red at the end of 2017/18 (PA)

The report also highlights that NHS providers in England did not meet targets for diagnostic tests, referral to treatment times and some cancer care targets.

The document, which covers “most challenging winter periods that the NHS has had”, shows that at the end of March 2018, 2,647 patients were waiting over a year for treatment compared to 1,513 the previous year.

It also is a “large increase” from the 2,179 waiting in February 2018.

Meanwhile, more than five million people attended A&E during January, February and March – which led to more than 1.1 million hospital admissions.

During the final quarter of the year, 83.5% of A&E patients treated by NHS providers across England were admitted, transferred or treated within the allotted four-hour time frame – a fall from 86.5% in the same quarter for the previous year, the report states.

The NHS Mandate states that 95% of patients attending A&E should be seen within four hours – the waiting time standard is seen as a key measure of how the NHS as a whole is performing.

But only five A&E departments managed to meet the 95% target during January, February and March.

And half of the 10 “best performing” units didn’t even manage to meet the four hour target.

More than five million people attended A&E in January, February and March (PA)
More than five million people attended A&E in January, February and March (PA)

Meanwhile, the report also highlights that the NHS provider sector ended the year with a “challenging level of vacancies” of more than 92,000 posts.

But NHS Improvement argued that the figures show that NHS staff displayed “incredible resilience” in meeting demand.

Meanwhile, it said that the NHS as a whole has “broadly achieved financial balance for the year” after NHS England provisionally reported that it had managed a £955 million underspend for the commissioning of healthcare services in 2017/18.

But it said the findings underline the need for long-term planning and security for the NHS.

Ian Dalton, chief executive of NHS Improvement, said: “Hundreds of thousands more patients have been to A&Es this year but the NHS did not buckle under the pressure.

“Despite epic challenges, NHS staff up and down the country displayed incredible resilience and saw more patients than ever before within four hours.

“More than two thirds of providers ended the year on budget or better than planned. Given rising demand and record vacancies, this is an important achievement.”

Commenting on the report, Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at health think tank The King’s Fund, said: “Unless the long-term funding settlement promised by the Prime Minister provides the stability the service desperately needs, it is clear that standards of care will continue to deteriorate and patients will wait longer to access NHS services.”

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Theresa May and Philip Hammond cannot allow this financial knife-edge to continue.

“Whether the Chancellor announces the extra funding in time for the NHS anniversary this summer or waits until the Autumn Budget, it must be both substantial and genuinely new money.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Prime Minister and Jeremy Hunt have committed to a long term plan with a sustainable multi-year settlement for the NHS to help it manage growing patient demand, which will be agreed with NHS leaders, clinicians, and health experts.

“It is testament to the hard work and dedication of staff that despite ever rising demand and significant winter pressures, 277,150 more patients
were seen within four hours in A&E in 17-18 compared 16-17, and the majority of trusts’ finances are in good order.”

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