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NHS performance figures show ‘the writing is on the wall’

New figures are ‘baptism of fire’ for health secretary with NHS under intolerable strain

Louise Prime

Monday, 16 July 2018

NHS Providers has warned that “the writing is on the wall” as the latest official NHS performance figures show no let-up in the growing demand for NHS services – and its performance slipping against cancer targets, a sharp rise in the number of people waiting more than a year for routine operations, and no year-on-year improvement in accident and emergency performance.

Following his appointment last week as health and social care secretary, Matthew Hancock promised doctors, nurses, NHS managers and leaders and other care workers: “I will work with you, I will back you and I will make sure you have the long-term plan you need.” But the NHS Confederation said the new figures are a “baptism of fire” for him, as he takes on ministerial responsibility for “a system under intolerable strain”.

NHS England’s latest set of combined performance data show that:

  • Only 81.1% of patients received a first definitive treatment for cancer following an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer within 62 days in April 2018, against a target of 85%; and 92.1% of people in May 2018 were seen by a specialist within two weeks of an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer, whereas the target is 93%.
  • At the end of May 2018, there were 4.1m people on the waiting list for NHS treatment, which has increased by 7.5% compared with a year earlier. And only 88.1% of people waiting had been waiting for less than 18 weeks, compared with 90.4% at the end of May 2017 (against the standard of 92%).
  • In A&E in June 2018, 90.7% of patients were seen within four hours, the same proportion as in June 2017. Over the past 12 months there has been a 2.4% growth in the number of people attending A&E and a 4.6% growth in emergency admissions, with more than 24m A&E attendances in the past 12 months and 6.1m emergency admissions to hospital.
  • In May 2018 patients spent a total of 139,200 extra days in hospital beds waiting to be discharged, a reduction from 178,200 in May 2017. This equates to an average of 4,490 beds occupied each day in May 2018 by a patient subject to a delayed transfer of care, compared with 5,749 in May 2017.
The head of analysis at NHS Providers, Phillippa Hentsch, said: “These figures show there is no let-up in the growing demand for treatment… performance in A&E has picked up since the winter, but we are no further forward than we were 12 months ago.

“And as trusts battle to keep up with demand for urgent and emergency care, the challenge of recovering lost ground in preventing delays for routine operations becomes still greater. It is particularly worrying to see a sharp rise in the number of people waiting more than a year. Tackling this is a priority. But the pressures mean we’re going backwards. And it is a concern to see performance slipping against the cancer targets.”

She warned: “The writing is on the wall. We need urgent action now to head off much worse problems ahead in the coming winter. Funding is needed to put in place the necessary staff, beds and other resources. We are fast approaching the point where it is too late for this year.”

The NHS Confederation said it welcomed the government’s recent NHS funding settlement – which it said, although not enough, will make a difference if used wisely and accompanied by investment in social care to reduce the pressures on hospitals and other services. But its chief executive Niall Dickson warned: “If instead we use the extra money to prop up the existing system, we will surely fail and patients will suffer.”

He added: “This is a baptism of fire for the new health secretary. These performance figures show a system under intolerable strain with growing accident and emergency attendances and emergency admissions. This is now the day-to-day reality of life at the clinical coal face, but it cannot go on.”

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