A new report has revealed that almost 2 in 3 trusts are missing their NHS cancer targets with the result being that patients are facing an increasingly longer wait for treatment.
MPs responded to the findings in the report by the Public Accounts Committee saying that patients were being put at risk, facing ‘unacceptable’ and ‘agonising’ delays. In addition, the report found that more than 50% of trusts are forcing patients into long waits for surgery and accuses health bodies of ‘a lack of curiosity’ regarding the risks that patients could face as a result of the increasingly long waiting times.
The report’s findings are corroborated by recent research by the Telegraph, which found that there have been twice as many NHS negligence payments over a 5-year period. In 2013/14 the NHS paid out £327 million in compensation which rose to £655 million in 2017/18.
The Public Accounts Committee report was published in June 2019 and warned that a key NHS target for cancer patients had not been hit since 2013. Cancer patients are supposed to receive treatment within 2 months of diagnosis; in November 2018, only 38% of trusts achieved this target. Another target is that cancer patients should undergo planned surgery within 18 weeks, which only 44% of trusts managed to achieve last year.
With over 4.2 million patients now on waiting lists for treatment, MPs are expressing their concerns that NHS England has decided to remove penalties and sanctions for trusts who fail to meet the standard and that there was no national data collection. Trusts are only required to review the cases of those waiting at least a year for planned treatment.
The report says: ‘More and more patients are being let down by the NHS’s continued failure to meet deadlines for waiting times.
‘When waiting times are longer, patients may experience additional pain, anxiety, and inconvenience.’ The report also spoke of the risk of long waiting times, that could lead to patient harm due to the deterioration of a medical condition over this period.
The PAC chairman, Meg Hillier, said: ‘It is unacceptable that the proportion of patients being treated within NHS waiting times standards is continuing to spiral downwards; NHS England and the Department of Health & Social Care must regain control. The impact on individuals of protracted waiting times cannot be ignored.’
According to reports, one charity shared how the wait for cancer testing is ‘agonising.’
Hillier spoke of the urgency necessary to give patients a definitive answer as soon as was possible, to either provide peace of mind or allow treatment to begin.
With NHS England currently reviewing waiting times, including the possible axing of the 18-week target and the 4-hour target for Accident & Emergency departments, Ms. Hillier also said: ‘NHS England’s review of waiting times is now more crucial than ever. However, this cannot be an opportunity for standards to slip; any changes must protect and improve patient outcomes.’
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