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Many hospitals still struggling warns King’s Fund

Quarter of hospitals missing waiting times targets, and rise in C. difficile

Louise Prime

Friday, 14 October 2011

The NHS is performing strongly overall but far too many hospitals in England are still missing their waiting times targets, said The King’s Fund this morning. And many hospitals have seen a rise since last year in their levels of Clostridium difficile infections.

The health charity’s new quarterly monitoring report How is the NHS performing? investigated national variation in hospitals’ waiting times and infection rates. It found that the promising headline result masks “significant pressures in some local areas”:

  • national average waiting times are still within the target range, but one in four hospitals failed to treat at least 90% of patients within 18 weeks of referral in August
  • nationally, only 3% of patients waited more than 4 hours in A&E in the first quarter of 2011/12 – but one in ten providers missed the target that at least 95% of A&E patients should wait less than 4 hours
  • the national incidence of hospital-acquired infections has reached a new low – but 45 hospital trusts said they had had higher levels of C. difficile infection than in the same quarter of last year.

More than half of finance directors questioned by The King’s Fund said they were concerned, very concerned or uncertain about whether their trust will be able to meet “ambitious productivity targets”; however, all but one said they predicted ending the financial year without being in deficit. Most said that they expected clinical quality to be unharmed by their efforts to meet their productivity targets.

Professor John Appleby (pictured), chief economist at The King’s Fund, said: “While the NHS continues to perform well, a minority of trusts are struggling to keep waiting lists down and reduce hospital-acquired infections.

“Looking ahead, the challenge will be to maintain performance and deliver productivity improvements as finances tighten further. Six months into an unprecedented 4-year period of financial restraint, the pressures already emerging in a small number of trusts highlight the scale of the challenge facing the NHS.”

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