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First year of NHS England’s three-year recovery programme already falling short

1 March 2023

  • Record waits for cancer care and elective care wait list at 7 million patients
  • Proportion of people receiving timely cancer treatment has actually decreased
  • Target to reduce the number of people waiting overlong for urgent referral will not be met
  • Target for recovering elective care is unachievable

In a report today the Public Accounts Committee says cancer waiting times are at their worst recorded level and NHS England will not meet its first cancer recovery target. Though the first target for elective care was to eliminate two-year waits by July 2022, in August 2022 there were 2,600 patients who had been waiting more than two years, and a record 7 million people on waiting lists in total.

NHS England made unrealistic assumptions about the first year of recovery, including that there would be low levels of COVID-19 and minimal adverse effects from winter pressures. The Committee expresses serious doubts that the wider NHS recovery plan will be achieved to time.

The NHS is still not planning properly for the staffing and other resources it needs to deliver additional diagnostic and treatment capacity, though much of it was already needed before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Committee says DHSC and NHS England must act now on two areas that most obviously need new, effective planning to enable recovery. The first is to increase the capacity of adult social care so that the flow through hospitals improves. The second is to finally get the years overdue strategy in place to create a productive healthcare workforce of the right size. This requires clarity and reality about how long that will take to achieve through domestic training.

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“Despite a significant cash injection meant to begin to help the recovery from the pandemic, the NHS is in full blown crisis and all the metrics are going in the wrong direction. On the evidence we have received the NHS will not achieve the targets in its recovery plan, and that means health, longevity and quality of life indicators will continue to go backwards for the people of this country. That is simply shameful, and totally unacceptable in a nation as wealthy as ours.

NHS England must lift its sights and refocus on its strategic duty to offer direction to the whole NHS. This means difficult trade-offs to address historical inequalities between areas, to reconstitute a depleted, exhausted workforce that is on its knees, and to rebuild a crumbling physical estate that is in dangerous condition in many places. We do not expect the NHS to achieve the significant and ambitious targets of its current recovery plan, but it must now step up and show that leadership for a realistic way forward, with targets that have patients seeing the real improvements.”

Further information

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