NHS England has unveiled a new plan to help address the growing crisis in the NHS, under which people may have to wait longer for routine operations but those with cancer should get faster treatment.
The standard of 92 percent of patients being treated within 18 weeks of referral has not been met since February 2016, and this target can now no longer be guaranteed, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has reportedly said.
"There is a trade-off here - we do expect there will be some marginal lengthening of waiting lists, but this will still represent a strong, quick experience compared to 10 years ago, let alone 20,” he noted, as quoted by BBC News online.
The new plan for the NHS, put together by partners who wrote the Five Year Forward View, lays out a number of steps the health service needs to take over the next two years to avoid buckling under the pressure of rising demand and financial constraints.
Central threads of the plan include a ten-point efficiency programme, freeing up 2,000-3,000 hospital beds, slashing temporary staffing costs, boosting access to high quality GP services and primary care, and driving forward improvements to cancer services and mental health.
Improving A&E performance is also crucial, and this will be assisted by addressing delayed transfers of care, offering specialist mental health care in emergency departments, and increasing the number of doctors and paramedics handling calls to NHS 111.
Also of note, the controversial sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) now called sustainability and transformation partnerships. Accountable care systems (ACS) - evolved versions of STPs - will be handed new powers and responsibilities for the provision of optimal care.
“Given the difficult financial position in which we find ourselves, NHS England deserves credit for producing an ambitious plan for reform and transformation which must be the right approach,” Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation said, commenting on the plans.
“But we have to acknowledge that there are significant risks and in some respects it is a leap in the dark. We have no alternative but to embark upon such fundamental change, but to do so when services are under enormous pressure and money is so tight is without precedent.”
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has broadly welcomed elements of the plan, but warns that the key issue of workforce has not been adequately addressed.
“We need to ensure that emergency medicine has the right number of senior staff as decision makers working in one of the most intense environments in healthcare to help deliver safe, high quality care. We also need to have the right junior clinical workforce as well as having the right training environment so that they can be both attracted and retained to completion of training,” stressed its president Dr Taj Hassan.
“Not having enough consultants and other staff is badly damaging the day to day function of Emergency Departments (EDs). Too many EDs are currently reliant on very expensive locum spend and that cannot be allowed to continue. We desperately need a more coherent, stable and intelligently resourced approach to senior staffing.”