£14 billion plan to reduce NHS cancer backlogs in England is failing, say MPs | NHS

A £14 billion plan to cut NHS delays caused by Covid is missing targets, with cancer waiting times at their worst, parliament’s spending watchdog has said.

A Commons public accounts committee report said NHS England’s three-year catch-up program for elective and cancer treatment, agreed in 2022, was already “falling short” in its first year and expressed serious doubts that the plan broader would be achieved in time. .

Parliamentarians found that while the first target was to eliminate two-year waits for elective care by July 2022, there were 2,600 patients waiting more than two years in August 2022 and a record 7 million people on waiting lists in total.

The recovery program was overly optimistic, the report said. “NHS England made unrealistic assumptions about the first year of recovery, including that there would be low levels of Covid-19 and minimal adverse effects from winter pressures.”

Parliamentarians found that waiting times for cancer treatment were “at the worst level on record” and concluded that the target of ensuring that 85% of people did not wait more than 62 days for cancer treatment after an urgent referral from their primary care physician was not met. would be completed by March. 2023. In the first five months of 2022-23, only 62% of patients reached the target and 11% were treated more than 104 days after an urgent referral.

NHS England received £14 billion in recovery funding in September 2021 for the three years from April 2022 and published its recovery plan in February 2022.

Meg Hillier, chairman of the public accounts committee, said that despite a significant infusion of cash to help the recovery from the pandemic, the NHS was in “a total crisis and all the metrics are going in the wrong direction”.

“Based on the evidence we have received, the NHS will not meet the targets of its recovery plan and that means that health, longevity and quality of life indicators will continue to slide backwards for the people of this country,” she said. “This is simply disgraceful and totally unacceptable in a nation as rich as ours.”

NHS England has committed to publishing an NHS workforce plan by April 2023. But the PAC report also criticized the “dearth” of advance planning to ensure sufficient staff and capacity for extra diagnostic tests and treatments – many of which which “were already needed before the Covid-19 pandemic”.

“NHS England must elevate its vision and refocus its strategic duty to provide guidance across the NHS. That means difficult trade-offs to address historic inequalities between areas, to reconstitute a drained and weary workforce that is on its knees, and to rebuild a crumbling physical heritage that is in dangerous condition in many places,” Hiller said.

“We don’t expect the NHS to achieve the significant and ambitious targets of its current recovery plan, but it must now step up and show that leadership for a realistic way forward, with targets that make patients see real improvements.”

Responding to the findings, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Confederation of the NHS, said the NHS was paying the price for the longest financial squeeze in its history and that a decade of austerity had left it to deal with 133,000 staff vacancies, a shortage of essential equipment and much of the property in poor condition.

“All this, along with the pandemic, (has) contributed to the extension of waiting lists, but the NHS is working hard to reduce them, having already practically eliminated the two-year delay in elective care.

“NHS leaders are doing all they can to keep patient appointments under control in the face of a continuing wave of industrial action and there are signs that winter pressures are easing, with flu cases and emergency admissions decreasing. Furthermore, thanks to the amazing work of the healthcare team, ambulance response times, hospital transfer delays and diagnostic waits are all improving despite huge gaps in the workforce.

“There is no denying that the NHS is going through an extremely difficult period and it is in the hands of the government to work out the details of its long overdue workforce plan, reach an agreement with the unions and ensure that its spring declaration delivers as much for the NHS and the communities it serves.”

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Sir James Mackey, National Director of Elective Recovery at NHS England, said there were “a number of factual errors” in the PAC report.

“While there have been much higher levels of Covid (than agreed assumptions), NHS staff have reached the first milestone, virtually eliminating two-year waits, and have made significant progress in the second, reducing the number of 18-month waits. in more than a quarter last month – facts that were ignored in this release,” he said.

“On cancer, thanks to the efforts of the NHS, record numbers are being referred for checks, allowing staff to do the clinically right thing, prioritizing the most urgent cases – the health service cannot help those who do not come forward.”

In Wales, only half (54%) of patients start cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral from their GP, while in Scotland, the SNP government is also not meeting its cancer targets, without no Scottish health board reaching target to treat 95% of patients within 62 days of an urgent referral by GPs. Overall, just under three-quarters (74.7%) of patients started treatment within the standard 62 days, according to the latest figures.

Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, said the NHS was in the biggest crisis in its history and that things were still not getting better. “Until the Conservatives admit they haven’t trained enough staff, the NHS will continue to struggle to treat patients in time,” he said.

“In the budget, the government should adopt the labor plan to double places in medical schools and train an additional 10,000 nurses each year, paid for by abolishing the non-dominated.”

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