Health Policy May 2, 2019
Stark impacts of winter pressures 2018/19 revealed in new report

By News Feature - Accountable Care Journal

A new report from the British Medical Association (BMA) examining the performance of NHS services over the winter 2018/19 reveals that thousands of cancer patients were left waiting weeks for treatment. The report, 'NHS Pressures – Winter 2018/19; A Hidden Crisis,' uses NHS England data to examine cancer treatment services, emergency care and hospital care, revealing the areas most under pressure.

The report finds that almost a quarter of cancer patients had to wait more than two months for their first treatment after an urgent referral by a GP, with only 76.2 per cent being seen within the 62 days; well below the 85 per cent target. The BMA report this as the worst performance on record with 6,240 people were waiting beyond the target overall, a 39 per cent rise on last year.

The number of people waiting to see a cancer specialist for more than 21 days also rose to a historic high of 8,820, up from 5,099 last winter, an increase of 73 per cent. Further to this, the number of patients needing help rose by 17 per cent. Between January and February 2019, the NHS failed to meet its target of 93 per cent of patients being seen by a cancer specialist within two weeks of referral for the first time in a winter period, registering 92.5 per cent.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the BMA Council called upon the government to "ensure that the NHS is provided with the 10,000 extra beds its needs" in light of the report. Reinforcing this message, Amanda Cool, patient liaison group chair at the BMA, said: "The government needs to urgently examine why this is happening and put in place measures that give patients the high level of care they deserve."

Other Winter Report figures show: 

  • A record 6.2 million patients visited major emergency care departments this winter;
  • almost one in four patients were left waiting more than four hours to be seen at major emergency care units and 214,000 were left on trolleys waiting more than four hours to be seen after being admitted. This is the second worst performance quarter on record;
  • overall, 85.1 per cent of patients were seen within the four-hour target, only 0.1 per cent better than the worst figures on record last winter;
  • February 2019 was the single worst month since records began with only 75.7 per cent of patients at major accident and emergency departments being seen within the required target time;
  • the total number of patients waiting for operations and further care rose to a record 4.3 million in February 2019 with the average wait for an operation now at close to seven weeks;
  • between 3 December 2018 and 3 March 2019, 93 per cent of beds in the NHS were occupied, only marginally down from last year. The NHS itself has said that bed occupancy above 92 per cent results in a serious negative impact on patient care.

Nick Ville, Director of Policy at the NHS Confederation, responded to the report, saying: "Under this pressure, it’s little surprise we saw in February this year the worse deterioration against the four-hour A&E target on record. The BMA is right to draw attention to the winter crisis and its effects on patients - and staff morale.

Acknowledging the importance of backing the NHS Long Term Plan and investment for primary and community services, Nick goes on to say: "We need to take a step back to understand why this winter has been so challenging and look at the ways we can relieve pressure on the NHS."

The full report can be read here.

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