NHS ‘failing patients’ on waiting times

12 Jun 19

Patients are being put at risk by the “unacceptable” failure of NHS trusts to meet waiting list targets, according to a critical new report.

The Public Accounts Committee found that the percentage of patients treated within waiting times standards had continued to deteriorate for both non-elective and cancer treatment.

Only 38% of trusts met the 62-day standard from referral to treatment for cancer patients, while fewer than half met the 18-week waiting times standard for elective treatment, MPs said.

Demand for elective and cancer treatments is growing, which risked exacerbating this worsening performance, the committee warned. It found the NHS did not fully understand what was driving the demand for elective care, undermining its ability to plan services, and that NHS organisations were not being sufficiently held to account for providing timely treatment.

“We are also concerned that the national bodies responsible for setting and managing waiting times appear to lack curiosity regarding the impact of longer waiting times on patient outcomes and on patient harm,” it said.

The committee suggested that the long-term funding settlement for the NHS, the NHS Long Term Plan, and the current review of waiting times standards presented an opportunity to get the NHS back on track in meeting waiting times standards.

Committee chair Meg Hillier said the impact on individuals of protracted waiting times could not be ignored. “It is unacceptable that the proportion of patients being treated within NHS waiting times standards is continuing to spiral downwards; NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care must regain control,” she said.

“Ultimately, NHS England must steer waiting times standards back on course to prevent further decline [and] we call on the NHS to outline and commit to a firm timescale and plan for delivering this.”

NHS England said the report failed to represent progress that had been made to meet waiting times targets. “Actually, hard-pressed NHS surgeons, nurses and other staff are treating hundreds of thousands more patients within the current waiting times targets than they did even three years ago, and cancer survival is now at a record high – both facts it is surprising that this report largely ignored,” said a spokesperson.

Miriam Deakin, director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, said trusts were rightly prioritising patients who were most sick, but that had a knock-on impact on other parts of the service, with a growing waiting list potentially pushing more people towards emergency care.

“Trusts are working flat out to meet the constitutional standards, but a combination of severe staff shortages, rapidly increasing demand and financial pressures has left performance against these standards falling further and further behind,” she said.

The Department of Health and Social Care said an extra £33.9bn a year would be provided by 2023-24 through the NHS Long Term Plan, which would see the health service grow the amount of planned surgery year on year and reduce the waiting list.

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