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The National Audit Office has said that in order to improve NHS waiting times, significant investment is required, reports Public Finance.
The latest NAO figures in its report on NHS waiting times for cancer and elective treatment reveal that 44 per cent of NHS trusts missed non-urgent care targets in November 2018 and 38 per cent failed to meet waiting times standards for cancer care in the same month.
For non-urgent elective care, 87 per cent of patients had been seen within the NHS target of 18 weeks, against the NHS standard of 92 per cent.
According to the NAO report, to clear the backlog of non-urgent elective care and bringing it back to March 2018 standards would cost £700m.
The NAO said: “Constraints on capacity, including lack of finance, staff and beds, is linked with the decline in waiting times performance.”
NAO chief Amyas Morse said: “There has been insufficient progress on tackling or understanding the reasons behind the increasing number of patients now waiting longer for non-urgent care. With rising demand for care as well as constraints in capacity, it is hard to see how the NHS will be able to turn around this position without significant investment in additional staffing and infrastructure.”
The NAO recommended that NHS England and NHS Improvement should set out how they will address declining waiting time performance.
Responding to the NAO’s report, Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said:
"NHS waiting times have been growing steadily for a number of years and today’s report is another reminder of the extreme pressures the service is under.
"The NAO is right to raise concerns about the impact on patients of longer waits for cancer and planned NHS treatment. There are now over half a million people waiting more than 18 weeks to start consultant-led treatment, up from 150,000 five years ago. For most people, these waits will be uncomfortable and inconvenient, but in some cases they could result in harm and worse outcomes.
"While more patients are being seen than ever before, patients are being added to waiting lists faster than the NHS can treat them. For cancer, quick diagnosis and treatment saves lives. The latest figures show that nearly 25% of people urgently referred for possible cancer did not start treatment within the target 62 days, largely due to delays in diagnosis. It’s therefore unclear how the NHS will be able to meet the new commitment to diagnose cancers within 28 days of an urgent referral.
"As NHS leaders pilot new waiting time targets, it will be important for the service to robustly evaluate any change and to understand the impact on patients and their care."