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NHS England last met a key target in February 2016

It’s time to consider whether targets are achievable unless more money is provided, say providers

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Trusts are working flat out to meet NHS performance targets, but targets do not tell the whole story about the quality of care, NHS Providers claimed this morning in response to a new analysis by the BBC showing that the NHS in England has not met a key target since February 2016. The BMA warned that this ‘unacceptable’ situation will persist and limit the care that doctors can provide if the health and care service “continues to be deprived of much-needed resource”.

The BBC published the results of its own research this morning, which examined performance nationally as well as locally, across the 135 hospital trusts in England and 26 health boards in the rest of the UK. This revealed that hospital performance across the UK has ‘slumped’ with targets for cancer, A&E and planned operations now being missed en masse. It found that neither England, Wales nor Northern Ireland have achieved one of their three key targets for 18 months; and only Scotland has had any success in the past 12 months, hitting its A&E target three times. It added that England has seen the biggest deterioration. In 2012-13 it hit its key hospital targets 86.1% of the time, but in 2016-17 this fell to zero – it missed every monthly target.

The BBC also launched today its NHS performance tracker where people can check how their local service is performing on three key waiting time targets: four-hour A&E waits; 62-day cancer care; and planned operations and treatment.

NHS Providers said the launch of the tracker would give people further information about “how their local hospital is coping under such challenging conditions”, and Trust leaders are working ‘flat out’ to meet those targets and achieve the best possible care for patients. Its director of policy and strategy Saffron Cordery, said: “Of course performance against national targets does not tell the whole story about the quality of care, but timely access to treatment is really important. … But there is a growing gap between the ever-increasing demands being placed on the NHS, and the resources available to deliver them.”

She pointed out that Trusts are struggling through the ‘longest and deepest financial squeeze in the history of the NHS’ to recruit and retain enough staff to ensure safe, high-quality care. She warned: “Given current demands and resources it is time to consider whether these targets are actually achievable unless more money is provided.”

The BMA noted that every missed target indicates large numbers of patients having to wait longer for care than they should, which could cause them harm as well as inconvenience.

BMA Council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “The fact that the NHS in England hasn’t reached a target since February 2016 is unacceptable and points to an NHS creaking at the seams after years of underinvestment. If the health and care service continues to be deprived of much-needed resource this will further impact on patients and will ultimately limit the care doctors can provide.”

He warned: “Staff across the NHS are gearing up again for the busy winter period and will remember the stress of enduring the worst winter on record last year, with patients facing unacceptable delays for care. We don’t want to see a repeat of that, which is why it’s vital that the entire health system is supported and working well – from our GP surgeries, to hospital wards, to social care. To achieve this, the government needs to urgently put in place measures to address the funding, capacity and recruitment issues facing the system as a whole.”

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