NHS waiting times deteriorating due to funding squeeze, report finds

2 Nov 15

Waiting times in the NHS are continuing to deteriorate and are unlikely to improve amid financial pressures in the health service, an analysis by the Nuffield Trust and The Health Foundation has concluded.

The third annual QualityWatch statement by the think-tanks found that performance against waiting time targets fell to the lowest level in ten years, while there were big variations in care quality in some areas.

In a foreword accompanying the statement, Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards and Health Foundation’s director of policy Richard Taunt said that the “warning lights on care quality that we observed last year now glow even more brightly”.

They stated: “People working in the NHS want to deliver high-quality care, but they are increasingly battling against the odds to do so.”

They warned that the conditions for maintaining quality care and meeting the financial challenge “do not appear to be in place”, and noted a lack of realism about the level of quality the NHS can provide with the funds available.

The report found that performance against the four-hour A&E target in major units reaches its lowest level in more than 10 years in the last quarter of 2014/15.  The number of people waiting for more than four hours after the decision was made to admit them from A&E into hospital grew by 45% on the previous year.

The target that 75% of life threatening emergency calls to be attended by an ambulance within eight minutes was also regularly missed, reaching a low of 61% in December 2014, the report said.

The report also pointed to disparities in care quality, for example the variation between childhood and adult diabetes services highlighted in a critical report by the National Audit Office in October.

High levels of stress amongst staff in the NHS and high vacancy rates across primary and hospital care were also cited by the report as reducing the quality of care patients receive.

It was “very difficult to predict” whether crises in care quality and access are set to proliferate or gradually decline, Edwards and Taunt stated.

“One thing that is clear is that patients cannot expect the speed at which they access care to improve anytime soon”.

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