Warning NHS ‘critical’ as key targets are missed

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Problems affecting A&E services are spreading to other areas to put the NHS in a “critical” position, experts warn today.

Early this month, figures showed waiting times in casualty units in England were at their worst for more than a decade.

Now performance in other key areas is said to have deteriorated to the worst level for years, leading to claims that the system is “creaking at the seams”.

Health thinktank The King’s Fund said its latest quarterly monitoring report, based on analysis of official figures, revealed:

::The proportion of inpatients waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment rose to 12.5 per cent in November - the highest since the target was put in in 2008.

::The target that no more than five per cent of outpatients should wait longer than 18 weeks for treatment was breached in November - the first time it has been missed since 2008.

::Between July and September, waiting times for cancer treatment “continued to worsen” with 83.5 per cent of patients receiving treatment within 62 days of urgent referral from their GP - the lowest proportion since the current target was introduced.

::The number of cancelled operations from November to January was up by a third on the same period the previous year.

John Appleby, chief economist at The King’s Fund, said: “Taken together, the findings from this quarter’s report show that services are stretched to the limit.

“With financial problems also endemic among hospitals and staff morale a significant cause for concern, the situation is now critical.”

Shadow health minister Jamie Reed said: “The A&E crisis is intensifying and spreading to other parts of the NHS. People are having their operations cancelled because A&E needs more and more beds - this helps to explain why waiting lists are at a six-year high.”

The Department of Healthsaid: “The NHS is busier than ever which is why we have given almost £1 billion this year for almost 800 more doctors, 4,700 more nurses, 6,400 more beds and treatment for an extra 100,000 patients.”