The performance figures for the NHS for March 2016 were the worst set of figures for a third month in a row. Hospitals missed all key targets, including waiting time in A&E and planned operations.
The data for the previous two months, January and February, also showed the worst performance for those months since records began. This failure in performance was despite the UK experiencing one of the mildest winters on record.
A&E waiting times riseThe NHS has national minimum waiting time targets for numerous situations, including A&E, elective surgery and cancer diagnosis and treatment. This makes it relatively easy to track how the NHS is performing in these areas.
The statistic that always makes the headlines is the wait in A&E: there is a national target that 95% of people should wait less than four hours in A&E. In March 2016 hospitals admitted, transferred or discharged just 87.3% of patients within the required four hours – well below the target of 95%. The data for January and February 2016 were worse with only 83% of patients who attended A&E being seen within four hours in January and 81.6% in February, way below 95%.
Elective surgery delayedDelays to treatment were not confined to A&E - the largest number of people since records began had to wait more than the maximum of 18 weeks for planned care in hospital and the NHS also missed its targets in many other areas, including cancer referral times. In March 2016 the number of people waiting for elective surgery hit 3.5 million. It has not been as high since January 2008.
Ambulance response times increaseThe ambulance service is also missing its targets: in March 2016 the 10 NHS regional ambulance services in England responded to just 66.5% of the most urgent 999 calls for help, called Red 1 calls, within eight minutes. That is far short of the 75% target they are meant to hit and is the 10th month in a row in which they have not met the standard.
Performance was even worse for Red 2 calls, which are also life-threatening, such as for a stroke: the service managed to reach just 58% of such patients, way below the target of 75%.
2015/16 worst performanceThe overall performance figures for 2015/2016 are the worst the organisation has ever recorded in a full year. Figures for the full year 2015/16 released by the NHS include the number of hospital operations cancelled at the last minute because of a lack of staff or beds, which has risen to its highest in 15 years; a total of 74,086 patients in England had their procedure cancelled at the last minute during 2015-16 for what the NHS calls “non-clinical reasons”. This was not related to any industrial action.
Delays in other services
Not all NHS services are tracked as closely as A&E and hospital waiting times, however delays to treatment are being reported in many other areas of care.
In mental health services waiting times are a serious problem with figures from 2013-14 showing that the average waiting time for a child seeking a routine appointment with a mental health practitioner was 21 weeks, up from 15 weeks the year before and the average maximum wait for a community mental health team appointment was 30 weeks. In April 2016 a report on child and adolescent mental health services revealed that the longest waiting times experienced by users have doubled in the last two years, with waiting times of up to two and a half years reported.
Waiting times to visit a GP have increased: in April 2016 official figures showed that the number of people having to wait at least a week to see their GP rose by 500,000 last year, with about 14.2 million patients having to wait a week or did not get an appointment at all the last time they tried to see their doctor in 2015, compared with 13.8 million in 2014.