Too little, too late, never safe

Too little, too late, never safe

Today’s newspapers report that, for the first time ever, the average waiting-time to see a GP has exceeded 15 days.

It is nine years since David Cameron asserted “The NHS is safe under the Conservatives” – probably the sickest (sic) political joke this century.

That ‘Conservative safety’ has resulted in nearly 2.8 million waiting over 4 hours in A&E last year, more than 540,000 patients waiting over 18 weeks for treatment, NHS waiting lists growing to over 4.3 million, and nearly 27,000 patients waiting over 62 days for cancer treatment. Unsurprisingly, there are 17,000 fewer hospital beds now than there were in 2010.

Prior to 2010, the long-term funding increases in the NHS were 4% per year. Combined analysis by the Health Foundation, the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust has confirmed that the health budget will only rise by 2.7% in real terms in 2019/20 – less than the government’s promised average 3.4% a year increase.

This has meant that

  • A&E departments are overstretched and overcrowded with people waiting longer and longer to be seen
    • The target for 95% of patients to be seen within 4 hours in A&E has not been met since July 2015.
    • In 2018, 18.5% of people attending hospital A&E spent longer than 4 hours in the department, compared with 3.4% in 2010.
    • 2018-19 was the worst on-record for the proportion of patients seen within four hours (down to 88%).
  • The target for 92% of people on the waiting list to be waiting less than 18 weeks for treatment has not been met since February 2016.
    • The waiting list for elective care has grown by one and a half million since March 2013 to 4.2 million in November 2018.
    • Between April 2018 and April 2019, the waiting list for planned treatment grew by almost 7%.
    • In April 2019, 579,403 patients waited longer than 18 weeks to start treatment, an increase of 15.8% compared to April 2018.
  • The target for 1% of patient to be waiting over 6 weeks for a diagnostic test has not been met since November 2013.
    • 3% of the patients waiting for one of the 15 key diagnostic tests at the end of February 2019 had been waiting six weeks or longer from referral.
  • The NHS has not met the 62-day standard from urgent referral for suspected cancer to treatment since 2013, and in November 2018 only 38% of trusts met this standard.
    • Between July and September 2018, only 78.6% of patients were treated within 62 days of an urgent referral, down from 83.8% between September and December 2014.  

Having spent nine years running down the NHS, imposing the biggest funding squeeze in its history, with swingeing cuts to public health services and social care slashed by £7 billion since 2010, the Conservatives now say they need a 10 Year Plan to clear up their own mess.

Now, headline-grabbing statements by the new Prime Minister are intended to show a big change of direction. “An immediate £2bn extra this year” proclaims Johnson. It all sounds impressive until it is revealed that £1bn (ie half) of that is money being held by NHS Trusts for major repairs and renovations which the government had prevented them spending, and that there is now a £6bn backlog in repairs and maintenance which had been caused by the Conservative’s real term cuts.

There is no excuse for anyone ever again to be taken in by a Conservative promise that they would take care of our NHS.

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