latest health care news

13.07.18

NHS fast approaching winter dead-end as June performance welcomes Hancock with ‘baptism of fire’

Growing demand and a lack of performance improvement compared to June last year suggests that the NHS is heading towards another harsh winter, in what is proving to be “a baptism of fire” for the new health secretary.

Responding to the latest NHS England performance figures, healthcare bosses have insisted that the situation is clear: the system is under “intolerable strain” in what has now become the “day-to-day reality of life at the clinical coal face.”

Niall Dickson, chief executive of NHS Confederation, said the new funding settlement – “a lot more” than what has been offered in recent years, and long-term enough to provide some stability – is welcome, but is not enough and will have to be used wisely.

“This is a baptism of fire for the new health secretary,” added Dickson. “These performance figures show a system under intolerable strain with growing accident and emergency attendances and emergency admissions.”

The latest figures, accounting for June this year, show that there has been no performance around A&E waiting times compared to this time in 2017. Just over 90% of patients were seen within four hours, despite it being nearly the height of summer, and there was a 2.4% rise in the number of people attending emergency departments in the last 12 months.

Philippa Hentsch, head of analysis at NHS Providers, argued that everyone wants to avoid a repetition of the problems experienced last winter. But for that to happen, “you would need to see significant improvement compared to where we stood this time last year against key targets such as the four-hour standard in A&E.”

“The reality is that trusts are doing all they can. They are seeing many more patients than 12 months ago and performance in A&E has picked up since the winter, but we are no further forward than we were 12 months ago,” she continued.

“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.”

At the extreme end of the spectrum, almost 100 patients waited more than 12 hours to be seen at an A&E, a figure which is 80% higher than in June last year – in what Hentsch described as a “particularly worrying” problem that must be tackled as a priority.

“The writing is on the wall,” she said. “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.”

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