The NHS at 70

“Only one hospital trust met all its main targets over the past year, with dozens failing on emergency treatment, cancer care and routine surgery waiting times, an investigation by The Times has found.

As the NHS prepared to mark its 70th anniversary today with services at Westminster Abbey and York Minster, doctors said the findings showed a system that was teetering “like a giant game of Jenga”.

The Times interactive project to uncover the best and worst of NHS hospitals found that in 2017-18, 25 out of 139 trusts failed to see 95 per cent of A&E patients within four hours, treat 85 per cent of cancer patients within 62 days and offer 92 per cent of non-emergency patients treatment within 18 weeks. Only the Chelsea and Westminster in London hit all three key targets. Inspectors have praised the trust’s leadership and desire to learn from problems.

Over the winter 49 hospital trusts said their beds were full at some point. Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of the hospitals’ group NHS Providers, acknowledged that this risked damaging “public faith in the NHS, if it is unable to meet the standards people rightly expect”. The analysis, which looked at data on three key targets plus cancelled urgent operations, Care Quality Commission ratings, ambulance delays, bed blocking and norovirus outbreaks, suggests that Worcestershire Acute Hospitals Trust is performing worst. The hospital, where two patients died on trolleys in A&E in one week in January last year, is rated inadequate and has the third worst casualty performance.

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust think tank, said: “It’s perfectly possible to have a view that the NHS needs more money but being oversentimental about it doesn’t help . . . There is definitely scope for improvement.”

He warned that there was no end in sight to the need for budget rises. Britain spends twice as much of national income on the NHS as in 1948, despite a vastly larger economy.

Theresa May has promised a £20 billion boost over the next five years, which experts have estimated is not enough to allow it to start meeting targets while improving GP, mental health and cancer care.

Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said the system had been starved of resources and was “like a giant game of Jenga”.

A national “brand” like the NHS does not exist anywhere else and it profoundly affects how we look at our health service (Chris Smyth writes).

It is common to hear “the NHS saved my life” but in no other country do people say “our universal taxpayer-funded healthcare financing system saved my life”.

The NHS brand encapsulates the promise of comprehensive treatment, free at the point of use for the richest and poorest.

Yet responsibility lies in Whitehall, which feels remote from the front line. The political control of the NHS is unique and damaging. In Europe regions take responsibility and often find it easier to get things done. It is striking that recent key NHS successes — bringing down death rates by publishing data, centralising stroke care and eliminating surgical inefficiencies — have been led by staff rather than top-down initiatives.”

Source: Times (paywall)