Key NHS Targets Not Met for Seven Years

Key NHS Targets - Lady in waiting room.
BSC, LLB (Hons) & LPC Sophia Azam
Legally reviewed by: BSC, LLB (Hons) & LPC Sophia Azam Updated: In: Medical Negligence

Recent Findings Regarding Key NHS Targets

Recent research from the BBC reveals that key NHS targets have been consistently missed for the last seven years across the UK.

Furthermore, the review of records, which spans back 20 years, reveals Northern Ireland and Wales have never met the four-hour accident-and-emergency target.

The analysis focuses on the three key hospital targets. This covers, A&E, cancer and waiting times those planning care. When combining the length of time in which the targets have been missed, the figure reaches 100 years.

Worryingly, in the past seven years, only one target has been met by Scotland regarding the A&E target. However, this target was achieved during lockdown in 2020, when the number of visits to A&E was significantly lower than average.

In the light of the recent analysis, all four nations state they are placing priority and investment into reaching key NHS targets for waiting times.

How Are Key Targets Measured?

The three targets are as follows:

  • Four-hour A&E treatment
  • 62-day cancer treatment
  • Hospital treatment

These targets were all rolled out during the 2000s and have been used to track performance ever since.

Although the targets are the same for each four nations, each nation decides how they are measured.

The four-hour A&E target remains similarly measured for each nation. However, there are significant differences for how planned hospital treatment is measured.

For example, in England hospital treatment targets are meant to be within 18 weeks of a referral 92% of the time. This covers everything from knee and hip operations for which patients are admitted through to outpatient appointments.

However, in Northern Ireland, the target is 13 weeks 55% of the time. This is just for patients who need to be admitted.

The Latest NHS Figures 2023

How long is the waiting list for hospital treatment?

The waiting list for hospital treatment has risen over 2023, peaking in September at 7.8 million.

Source: NHS England: Consultant-Led Referral to Treatment Waiting Times

How long are waiting times for A&E?

The number of people going to A&E remains higher than pre-pandemic levels in summer 2023. The number of patients spending over 4 hours in hospital A&E grew considerably between 2015 and 2020. A new record high of 50.4% was reached in December 2022. Currently, the figure remains above 40%.

Additionally, the number of patients waiting over 12 hours for admission after a decision to admit has increased substantially over the past two years.

Source: NHS England: Accident and Emergency Attendances and Emergency Admissions

How long are waiting times for cancer treatment?

The 62-day waiting time standard for cancer treatment (measured from urgent GP referral) has not been met in recent years. Performance declined between 2013 and 2018 and continued to rapidly fall since the pandemic.

In September 2023, 59.3% of patients waited less than 62 days for treatment after an urgent GP referral, compared with a target of 85%.

Read further about how staff shortages have led to cancer care delays.

Source: NHS England, Cancer Waiting Times

How long are waiting times for ambulances?

Ambulance response times have also risen. The average response to a Category 2 call (for e.g., suspected heart attacks and strokes) stood at over 1 hour 30 minutes in December 2022 compared with a target of 18 minutes. Performance has subsequently improved but remains outside the target.

Source: NHS England, Ambulance Quality Indicators

For more information about the latest NHS figures, AWH has written a summary of the figures in three areas of the NHS facing some of the largest issues: ambulance waiting times, staffing issues, and maternity care. Read more here.

Children Waiting Longer than 18 Weeks for Hospital Treatment

Although the government has made statements that they are placing priority on reaching key NHS targets, many are claiming not enough has been done. In an interview with the BBC, Sir Keir Starmer highlights the disproportionate number of children on the NHS waiting list, revealing that more than 180,000 children are waiting longer than 18 weeks for NHS treatment.

Members of the government are calling for children to become a higher priority, with concerns that the long waits impact their mental and physical development.

For NHS targets to be met, 92% of patients need to be seen in 18 weeks. However, as it stands, there is no separate key targets for children.

NHS Delays Putting Patients at Risk

With the increasing NHS delays, patients groups are warning the delays are putting patients at avoidable risk.

Ian Binns waited for four months for bowel cancer treatment. This is twice as long as he should have.

During the four months wait, the 66-year-old from Nottingham, went from stage one to late stage four cancer.

He describes the wait as the “worst time of my life,” where he adds “I would wake up every morning and wondering if I had a future.”

Due to the delays, his cancer is now incurable as it has spread. “Our greatest tools are rapid diagnosis and timely treatment. Where was the help when I needed it?”

Patients Association chief executive Rachel Power states: “The health of many deteriorates while they await treatment and their problems become more complex.”

Kate Seymour, of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: ”The impact this is having on people living with cancer, their families and friends is nothing short of heart-breaking. They deserve better.”

British Medical Association leader Prof Philip Banfield adds that the figures show the “dire decline” of the NHS during the years of austerity as services are “stretched beyond their limits.” As a result, “front-line staff are unable to provide the care they’ve trained so hard to undertake and that patients so desperately need.”

Read further about the dangers of low NHS staffing levels.

Comments from the Department of Health

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland acknowledges that waiting times are “unacceptable.” As a result, work is under way to reduce the waiting times, better meeting NHS targets.

However, they state that significant progress requires sustained additional investment. Additionally, the lack of devolved government means the Department of Health is unable to plan for the long-term.

A Welsh government spokeswoman states that extra money was being invested. She adds, “We have placed a clear focus on those patients with an urgent need and who have waited the longest.”

A spokeswoman for NHS England states that progress is being made. The number of patients facing very long waits is falling and there are signs that the NHS is coping better this winter than last. Additionally, the latest figures show that A&E waiting times were slightly improved compared to this time last year. However, while the waiting list has dropped for a second month in a row, there is a long way still to go before meeting NHS targets.

Making an NHS Negligence Claim

If you have suffered as a result of NHS waiting times not being met, then our solicitors can help you. Our specialist medical negligence solicitors will help you go through your medical negligence claim with care and expertise, helping you receive the compensation you deserve.

During a consultation, we will go through the prospects of your claim with you first. If we believe it to be in your best interest to pursue a negligence claim then we will advise you so, however, you are under no obligation to proceed. If you do wish to proceed, we will handle your claim on a no-win, no-fee basis, so you do not have to worry about any legal costs.

Common claims our no-win, no-fee medical negligence solicitors have handled include:

Do you believe you are suffering after receiving negligent medical care? Then request your free, no-obligation consultation today.

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