An independent spending watchdog has concluded that England’s NHS will struggle to meet its targets to improve strained emergency services by next year, on the back of declining patient consent.
The state of the NHS will be a major issue in next year’s expected general election and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is keen to show improvements before voters go to the polls.
But in a report published on Wednesday, the National Audit Office said that despite increased staffing and funding, the health service “has not been able to secure the full benefits” from it.
They noted that between 2019 and 2021, NHS productivity fell by 23 per cent, “a decline not echoed by a similar decline in the wider UK economy”.
Patient satisfaction with GP appointment appointments reached its lowest levels in 2022, and satisfaction with the telephone counseling service, 111, fell from an average of 88.8 percent between 2011-12 and 2020-21 to 78.7 percent in 2021-22.
The auditors suggested that NHS England’s two-year recovery plan for urgent and emergency care, backed by £2.6bn in funding, had set a target of improving patient services by next March, but that this would be difficult to achieve.
NAO chairman Gareth Davies said more people were receiving urgent and unplanned care than ever before, as NHS England spends increasing amounts of public money and employs record numbers of people.
However, deteriorating patient satisfaction and access to services suggests that “there is no single, straightforward solution to improving a complex and interdependent system”.
Although NHS England has a plan to improve services, “long-term trends in workforce, activity, spending and performance suggest this will be a significant challenge”, he noted.
The office said increased staff absenteeism and infection control measures due to the Covid-19 pandemic were part of the reason for the drop in productivity.
The NHS hasn’t met some urgent care standards for the better part of a decade. Across all A&E departments, for example, the last time the NHS met its target of admitting, transferring or discharged 95 per cent of patients within four hours of their arrival was in July 2015.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents health organizations across the country, said that while funding had increased, it had “not kept pace with historical rates and failed to keep up with demand for over a decade”.
He warned that staffing levels “remain far from where patients need them” and “with remaining issues around pay and conditions for many staff”.
The Department of Health and Social Care said the government was “working towards one of the fastest and most sustained improvements in emergency waiting times in the history of the NHS”.
The service’s recovery plan included getting 800 new ambulances on the road and providing an additional 5,000 hospital beds “plus 3,000 virtual ward beds to care for people safely from home”.
NHS England said that the “huge increase in demand, combined with a rise in bed occupancy, the ‘pandemic’ impact from Covid and influenza during the winter and industrial work” was undoubtedly a challenge for the health service.
But there have been “significant improvements in performance since the beginning of this year”.