Delayed transfers at record high due to ‘impossible demands’

The NHS continues to miss key performance targets, with delayed care transfers at the highest since records began, according to the latest figures.

There were 167,677 days of delayed transfers of care in April 2016, compared to 138,030 in April 2015, and 5,924 patients delayed at midnight on 28 April 2016, the highest number since monthly data was first collected in August 2010.

At a Public Accounts Committee hearing on Monday, Simon Stevens, the CEO of NHS England, admitted that the NHS would not be able to achieve 0% delayed transfers in the next four years.

Stephen Dalton, the interim CEO of the NHS Confederation, said that the figures showed the urgent need to better integrate health and social care.

“These performance figures should be a trigger to accelerate efforts to transform care, rather than to heap more pressure on the NHS as a whole,” he said. “Improving care and the performance of our NHS will only be delivered through local and inclusive health and care partnerships, including with the communities we serve.

 “This is an urgent call to government to quicken the pace and enable NHS and local authority leaders to work together to transform health and care services. The needs of people have changed and demand continues to outstrip resource. Unless we break the cycle, we will continue to see performance results that expose the problem, not offer any solutions.”

The figures also show that, in April 2016, 71.3% of red 1 ambulance calls were responded to within eight minutes, the eleventh month in a row in which the 75% standard had not been met.

The standard for red 2 calls has not been met in 30 months and is currently at 65.2%, and 92.2% of category A calls were answered within 19 minutes, marking the eleventh month in which the 95% standard has been missed.

In A&E, 90% of patients were seen within four hours, below the 95% standard. This figure was at the lowest ever in the previous quarter.

Matthew Swindells, NHS England’s national director of commissioning operations and information, said that A&E was “beginning to recover” from winter pressures, but that the figures showed that pressures in social care were “spilling over into the NHS”.

The target of only 1% of patients having to wait six months or longer for referral from diagnostic tests has not been met since November 2013, with the amount currently at 1.8%.

The standard for cancer waiting times was also missed, with 82.8% of patients beginning treatment within 62 days against an 85% target, and 91.6% of suspected breast cancer patients beginning treatment within two weeks against a 93% target.

Saffron Cordery, director of policy and practice at NHS Providers, and a member of NHE’s editorial board, blamed the figures on funding pressures on the NHS.

“In the middle of the longest and deepest financial squeeze in the NHS's history it is easy to see why the majority of NHS providers are not hitting demanding targets. Correcting this will be a major challenge,” she said. “Whilst some pretend that this is a result of poor NHS leadership, too many organisations are being affected for this to be the case. The problems are the result of demands being placed on NHS organisations that are impossible to deliver with the money available.”

However, there was some good news elsewhere. The number of 111 calls being answered within a minute was at 87.1%, compared to 70.7% in March 2016.

The NHS also met its new standard for treating more than 50% of psychosis patients within two weeks, with 65% of patients receiving treatment.

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