King’s Fund quarterly report shows A&E in crisis

Staff morale and patient care are suffering as the NHS heads for even more deficit

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The King’s Fund has released its quarterly monitoring report today, and it paints a bleak picture of the NHS.

Staff morale, waiting times for cancer treatment and the huge strain on A&E departments are some of the concerns that led chief economist John Appleby to conclude that ‘the situation is now critical’.

Financially, things look set to get even worse. 42 per cent of NHS trusts forecast a deficit for the end of the year 2014/15 – this is the highest proportion since the think tank began their surveys in 2011. This outlook is despite additional spending of almost £1 billion and with 60 per cent of surveyed trusts saying they had taken up loans or additional funding from the Department of Health this year.

Additional spends were directed at reducing waiting times and alleviating winter pressures, but this investment has not been felt by patients.

Across all A&E departments, the proportion of patients waiting more than four hours from arrival to discharge, admission or transfer in October to December last year was 7.4 per cent, amounting to 414,000 patients.

This is an increase of 47 per cent on the previous quarter and represents the poorest performance since 2003/4. Meanwhile in major A&E departments, more than 14 per cent of people waited for over four hours.

Overall, for all types of A&E units, nearly 50 per cent of all hospitals missed the four hour waiting target in the third quarter.

Around 34 per cent of NHS trust finance directors said that they felt that care in their local area had got worse over the last year.

Waiting times for cancer treatment have also taken a hit. The target is that 85 per cent of cancer patients receive treatment within 62 days of urgent referral from their GP. Since quarter 4 of 2013/14, this target has not been met. Only 83.5 per cent of cancer patients are being seen within this time period – the lowest number on record.]

For trust finance directors, staff morale remains their top concern. This will be partly due to a lack of optimism about the future – as the report says:

“Aside from various promises from the three major political parties on NHS spending next year and beyond, current plans amount to a real increase of just 0.2 per cent over this year’s planned spending – equivalent to around £250 million. “

Nearly eight out of 10 trust finance directors say that they are fairly or very concerned about their organisations’ ability to balance the books by the end of 2015/16. Furthermore, 83 per cent of trust finance directors and 63 per cent of CCG finance leads say that they are fairly or very concerned about the ability of trusts to achieve targets for reducing emergency admissions.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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