Hospital Dr News

NHS England must “fill in the gaps in its understanding of waiting times”

A committee of MPs says its unacceptable that more and more patients are being let down by the NHS’s continued failure to meet deadlines for waiting times

A report by the Public Accounts Committee criticises the national bodies responsible for lacking curiosity regarding the impact of longer waiting times on patient outcomes and harm.

It points to less than half of NHS trusts and foundation trusts meeting the 18-week waiting times standard for elective treatment. Furthermore, only 38% of trusts are meeting the 62-day standard from referral to treatment for cancer patients.

However, demand for elective and cancer treatments is growing which risks exacerbating this worsening performance.

The waiting list for elective care has grown by one and a half million since March 2013 to 4.2 million in November 2018.

The NHS does not yet fully understand what is driving the demand for elective care, undermining its ability to plan services to meet patient needs, it says.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC Committee, said: “In a high-pressured healthcare environment in which patient numbers are rising and demand is increasing, we were troubled by the Department of Health’s and NHS England’s approach to waiting times which seems to be characterised by gaps in understanding of: patient harm, hospital capacity and what is driving demand.

“It is no surprise then that we see such variation of waiting times across local areas and, therefore, why it has proved impossible for local trusts to properly map services and deliver sufficient provision.

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

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

The committee recommends that NHS England should set out, by December 2019, how, and by when, it will ensure that waiting times standards for elective and cancer care will be delivered again.

It also wants to know how NHS England will be held accountable for achieving waiting times standards now and in the future; and, what additional support will be put in place to help local NHS bodies to meet the standards.

Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Nigel Edwards said: “It’s no secret that the NHS has been missing most key waiting times targets for years. This report warns the impact on patients isn’t being taken seriously enough. The strong focus on A&E waiting times has been in danger of obscuring the fact that some patients waiting for planned care are suffering greatly from serious conditions and need help.

“I’m afraid I’m not convinced that just issuing new ultimatums to NHS England will resolve these problems. It’s all well and good for different parts of Government to demand things of each other, but without enough staff and beds the NHS won’t be meeting the old or new targets any time soon.”

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