NHS hospital waiting times increasing, Nuffield Trust finds

13 Mar 15

Increasing waiting times now represent a major problem in NHS, a report by the Nuffield Trust has revealed, with a marked deterioration in performance now being observed at even the best-performing hospitals.

The think-tank looked at how all 156 hospital trusts in England performed against six national targets since 2010.

It found a vast majority of patients in the English NHS continue to received services and treatments within the target timescales.

However, performance has declined recently, today’s Access to hospital care report found. Performance against half of the six performance measures it examined, including the A&E waiting time target, the 18-week target for a hospital bed and a six-week target for scans and diagnostic tests, were all missed on a national level in the last quarter.

The analysis found that the four-hour major A&E target had not been met since the second quarter of 2012/13 amid pressures in the system.

The report stated that this indicated that there were systemic issues in the healthcare system, rather than targets being missed as a result of a series of local or management failings.

There were some declines in performance for cancer referral and outpatient treatment, despite these targets still being met, the trust added.

Nuffield Trust research analyst and report co-author Holly Dorning said the vast majority of patients are still receiving care within the target times, but the analysis showed that deteriorating access to services is starting to affect patients attending even the best-performing hospitals.

‘We’ve known that hospitals have been struggling to meet the four-hour A&E target for a while,’ she stated. ‘But the fact that we are starting to see problems in other areas, like access to planned treatment, is a real concern. As this study makes clear, warning lights are now starting to flash across the wider hospital system.’

Ian Blunt, a senior research analyst at the trust, added there was ‘no quick’ fixes for growing waiting times, and people needed to be prepared to see further breaches of targets in the future.

‘While looking at a narrow set of targets can only tell us so much about the quality of care, this analysis does suggest that some of the recent reductions in performance are systemic,’ he added.

‘The response to declining performance must be dictated by a deeper understanding of its causes, and political leaders should be aware of their system-wide nature.’

Responding to the report, a Department of Health spokeswoman said that the NHS is busier than ever, as innovative treatments and medicines mean people are living longer with complex conditions like heart disease or diabetes.

‘We've increased the NHS budget by £16bn over this Parliament but ultimately we want to reduce pressure on services through our plans to increase access to primary care and look after people better in the community,’ she added.

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