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Targets missed again as NHS spring performance figures shows hospitals ‘creaking at the seams’ despite record number of patients seen on-time

Hospitals are still “creaking at the seams” under record-high demand as the latest official data shows the NHS’s performance against the four-hour A&E target is at its lowest level since records began.

Spring has seen little respite for the NHS, with one in seven patients in March not being seen with the four-hour A&E waiting time target in the wake of two consecutive months of record-low performance figures.

But NHS England has praised its “tireless” workforce for providing care to a record number of people during this winter, with 380,000 more patients treated with four hours in A&E compared to last winter.

Ian Dalton, chief executive of NHS Improvement, said reforms to emergency care had seen the NHS deliver a year-on-year improvement against the A&E target for the first time in five years despite treating record numbers.

Performance is better in Wales and Scotland than England, but both are still missing cancer care targets, with Nick Scriven of the Society of Acute Medicine saying it could still get worse despite winter ending.

He said: “My major imminent concern is that hospitals are working flat out at the moment and we have a looming spell of bank holidays, when many support services will not be functioning, heaping up the already relentless pressure.”

The director of policy and strategy at NHS Providers, Miriam Deakin, said it was clear that the rise in demand shows no signs of slowing, and the performance against the four-hour target remains well below 95%.

“These figures reflect the real story of winter. We must be realistic about the pressure trusts and their staff are under. There is a great distance to go to recover performance to the levels the public expect.”  

The NHS unveiled plans last month to overhaul its current target system and flagship A&E target, with new “rapid care measures” practising the most extreme cases.

Last week the NHS announced the 14 hospitals chosen to pilot the new system, although it has come under some criticism from NHS chiefs for trying to abandon targets simply because they can no longer meet them.

Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said the data shows the NHS is “creaking at the seams” as demand continues to outstrip provision with the situation “becoming untenable.”

Image credit - Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/PA Images


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