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20% of NHS trusts failing to hit targets

Reading time: 3 mins 35 secs

Alice Sanderson, November 21, 2018

Analysis by the BBC has revealed that nearly one in five local hospital services have not hit a single waiting-time target for a whole year.

Out of 157 hospital trusts and boards, across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, 29 are consistently failing to hit targets.

In Northern Ireland, all five trusts failed their key targets every time in 2017-18 for A&E, cancer and routine operations.

You can check how your local trust is performing on the BBC news website.

Toughest time of year

This revelation comes as the NHS approaches one of the hardest times of the year -  winter.

Last year the then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called winter “probably the worst ever” for the NHS, and it is believed by the NHS trusts that they will face similar troubles this year, with no signs that the demand is slowing down.

Due to the growing and complex needs of our ageing population, emergency and urgent care is as busy as ever.

Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), Dame Donna Kinnair, says that the NHS was going into the coming months “on the back foot”.

Hospitals are facing a shortage of both staff and beds, and Dame Kinnair said that images of “patients waiting on trolleys in corridors” were becoming all too common.

What are the waiting-time targets?

Targets vary depending on the area of the UK, but all patients should be seen within four hours of arrival at A&E.

The definition of ‘seen’ is that the patient should be admitted into hospital for further treatment, treated or discharged.

Targets for cancer patients say that they should start their treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral, although the way each nation measures that differs.

Non-emergency treatments see the biggest variation between nations. For instance, hip and knee replacements patients in Wales should be seen within 26 weeks, while in England and Scotland it is 18 weeks -  a two-month difference.

Performance

If performance is looked at on a national level, rather than looking at each of the local services, then it has sunk to the worst level since targets were introduced more than a decade ago.

All four nations of the UK have failed to hit any of the three targets for more than a year, with the last time any national target was met being in Scotland in August 2017.

None of the three key targets have been hit for at least five years in Wales.

Committed to change

Despite the findings of the BBC’s report, health departments across the UK said they are committed to improving waiting times, with specific programmes for this having already been introduced in Scotland and Wales.

The Department of Health and Social Care in England said that there was extra money being provided to the health service for the coming years which will put it on a “sustainable footing”, and they praised the “hard-working staff” of the NHS.

Northern Ireland's Health and Social Care Board conceded "the waiting times experienced by many patients continue to be unacceptable".

Response

Chief executive of NHS providers, which represents managers of the NHS, Christ Hopson, said that the system is clearly facing “significant strain.”

The NHS trusts that are struggling most have blamed a combination of prioritising emergency patients, the current climate and rising demand.

Kevin Baber, chief operating officer for Plymouth Hospitals, one of 16 trusts in England that missed all their monthly targets, said that while staff are working hard, they are struggling with the “ever increasing demand” but headway is being made in some areas.

Another of the 16 trusts, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, said it had had to prioritise emergency patients, meaning that others were having to wait longer.

Gwen Nuttall, from the Royal Wolverhampton NHS trust, said: “Our hospitals, along with others regionally and nationally, are incredibly busy.” She added that in the current climate, it “will always be a challenge” to meet targets.

Comment

Spokesperson for First4Lawyers, Andrew Cullwick, said: “It is worrying that so many of the UK’s NHS trusts are failing to meet targets. With the toughest time of the year approaching, and the current climate as it is, clearly things need to change.

We call on the government to pledge more resources and offer more support to our thinly stretched NHS to prevent things getting any worse.”