NHS Funding Crisis Hits Hospital Waiting Times


Analysis by the Health Foundation, an independent charity aiming for a healthier population supported by quality health care, has shown that hospital waiting times in England have got considerably worse over the past 5 years.

Daxa Patel, a Medical Negligence Partner at Simpson Millar, looks at the figures and provides comment.

Missed Targets

The review by the Health Foundation, which looks at the official NHS data between 2011-2012 and 2016-2017 makes for pretty grim reading.

The foremost revelation is that last year saw the NHS miss all 3 of its key waiting time targets. These relate to:

  • The 4 hour A&E target for being seen, treated or admitted to hospital
  • The 18 week target for general, non-urgent operations
  • The 62 day cancer target for urgent referrals to begin treatment

This is the first time in the health service's history that all 3 targets have been missed.

Longer Waiting Times

The figures for 2011-2012 showed that 725,000 waited for more than 4 hours in A&E. This had rocketed to 2.5million in the period of 2016-2017. For the 4 hour target to be met, it needs to apply to 95% of patients. Last year, only 89.1% were dealt with in the expected time.

Also last year, urgent cancer referrals failed to meet the 62 day target in over 26,000 cases, which was almost double that of 5 years ago, whereas in excess of 360,000 patients had to wait more than 18 weeks for their surgery, 200,000 more than half a decade ago. The cancer referral target needs to hit 85% for it to be met and the surgical procedures one 92%. Last year, they stalled at 81.8% and 90.7% respectively.

The failure to hit targets is part of a steady downward trend in the quality of NHS care overseen by the current government. Critical underfunding has led to a crisis, of which these figures are but a symptom, and with a Health Secretary who has gained a reputation for going into hiding whenever things get really bad, hopes that these figures will improve under the present regime look slim.

Daxa comments:

"The news that in England the number of people waiting for hospital care is at its highest only confirms what we already know about there being a crisis. Four hours is the usual A&E waiting time and 18 weeks is expected for a knee or hip replacement, but what is the point of these targets if they cannot be adhered to?"

"This shocking news suggests that either the waiting time targets are unreasonable, or those in charge of delivering care are starved of the resources they need to attend to patients in a timely manner."

"Unfortunately, we have to deal with many cases of delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis, which result in needless death or serious complications. A&E is for people in need of immediate attention and to the layperson even a 4 hour wait seems too long."

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