GROWING numbers of patients are being put at risk by “unacceptable” NHS delays – with two-thirds of trusts missing a key cancer target.
MPs also warn more than half of hospitals are failing to deliver elective treatments on time.
Currently, a record 4.2 million sick Brits are waiting for non-urgent procedures such as hip and cataract ops.
In a damning report, the Public Accounts Committee reveals NHS delays are continuing to “spiral downwards” at patients’ expense.
MPs also accused NHS bosses of “lacking curiosity” about the impact of long delays.
Committee Chair Meg Hillier said: “It is unacceptable that the proportion of patients being treated within NHS waiting times standards is continuing to spiral downwards; NHS England and the Department of Health & Social Care must regain control.
WAIT FOR CANCER TESTING IS 'AGONISING'
“The impact on individuals of protracted waiting times cannot be ignored. As one charity told us, the wait for cancer testing is ‘agonising’.”
Just 86.7 per of patients are now being seen for elective procedures within 18 weeks, against a 92 per cent target.
It has been three years since the key standard has been met.
Cancer patients are also facing worrying delays – with one in five now waiting too long for life-saving care.
More than 85 per cent of patients should start receiving therapy within 62 days of being referred by their GP.
In March just 79.7 per cent were seen on time, meaning the target has been missed for more than four years.
Across the NHS, the cancer standard was met by 38 per cent of trusts and the elective procedures by 44 per cent.
The powerful Common’s committee has now given health officials until December to clarify when the critical targets will be hit.
The report comes months after NHS bosses announced they want to scrap several flagship standards – including the 18-week aim for non-urgent ops.
TARGETS MUST NOT BE 'WATERED DOWN'
MPs warn this review should not “water down” current targets to make them easier to meet.
Ms Hillier added: “This cannot be an opportunity for standards to slip, any changes must protect and improve patient outcomes.”
Nuffield Trust Chief Executive Nigel Edwards said: “It’s no secret that the NHS has been missing most key waiting times targets for years. This report warns the impact on patients isn’t being taken seriously enough.
“The strong focus on A&E waiting times has been in danger of obscuring the fact that some patients waiting for planned care are suffering greatly from serious conditions and need help.”
Dr Fran Woodard, from Macmillan Cancer Support, blamed a workforce crisis for treatment delays.
She said: “Waiting for a diagnosis or treatment can understandably cause increased levels of anxiety during what is an already stressful time. These unnecessary delays only serve to prolong uncertainty and increase the strain on people living with cancer and their families.”
Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said escalating waiting lists are harming growing numbers.
She said: “This is an ongoing and deeply concerning problem with serious consequences for patient care, and it is simply unacceptable for patients to be left in limbo in this way.
“Longer waits always mean more time spent in pain and discomfort, but for some procedures they also reduce the good that the treatment is likely to do for the patient – this must be understood in terms of human cost.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said an extra £34 billion a year will be pumped into the NHS by 2024 to help cut long waits.
She said: “Over a million NHS patients start planned treatment with a consultant every month – with the majority seen and treated within 18 weeks – and last year 71,000 more people began their cancer treatment than in 2010.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “Actually, hard-pressed NHS surgeons, nurses and other staff are treating hundreds of thousands more patients within the current waiting times targets than they did even three years ago, and cancer survival is now at a record high – both facts it is surprising that this report largely ignored.”
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