Government has overseen 'years of decline' in NHS targets, MPs say

The Government has overseen “years of decline” in achieving waiting times targets for elective NHS care and cancer treatment, MPs have ruled, with “exhausted and demoralised” staff now facing a gruelling backlog to clear following the pandemic.

File photo dated 16/11/21 of the NHS logo
File photo dated 16/11/21 of the NHS logo

Patients face a “postcode lottery” when it comes to whether they will be seen on time, according to the Public Accounts Committee, who are now calling on Ministers to hold the NHS to account on its targets.

The cross-party committee of MPs warned that the waiting list for treatment – currently 6.1m people – is likely to grow for the next few years while performance against targets will be “poor”.

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The NHS has not met the 18-week target for people to receive planned treatment such as knee replacements in England since February 2016, while the number of people waiting more than a year or two has grown.

The NHS has also not met, in totality, the eight key standards for cancer care since 2014.

As of September, there were between 7.6m and 9.1m missing referrals of patients for planned care and between 240,000 and 740,000 missing urgent referrals for suspected cancer.

Labour MP Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “The Department of Health and Social Care has overseen a long-term decline in elective and critical cancer care that is dragging our NHS and the heroic staff down.

“We are extremely concerned that there is no real plan to turn a large cash injection, for elective care and capital costs of dangerously crumbling facilities, into better outcomes for people waiting for life-saving or quality-of-life improving treatment.

“Nor is it obvious that the department finally understands that its biggest problem, and the only solution to all its problems, is the way it manages its greatest resource: our heroic NHS staff.

“Exhausted and demoralised, they’ve emerged from two hellish years only to face longer and longer lists of sicker people. And this is compounded by staffing shortages in a number of professional areas.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “The pandemic has put unprecedented pressures on healthcare and we are tackling this head on. We have set out our action plan to deal with the Covid backlog and deliver long-term recovery and reform, backed by a record multibillion-pound investment over the next three years, and our 10-year plan on cancer.

“Business as usual is not enough. That’s why we are delivering brand new surgical hubs and another 100 community diagnostic centres providing an extra nine million scans, checks and procedures by 2025 to make sure patients get the surgery they need and earlier access to tests, including for cancer.”