The UK’s health regulator has found that an alarming number of hospitals are failing to attend to patients within four hours in A & E units, a key government target. Twice as many hospitals are failed to meet this target in the last 12 months as the year before.
An end of quarter report by Monitor revealed that 31 hospitals fell short of the target between April and June of this year. Last year, the figure was down at 13 hospitals for the same time period – a cause of concern for the Department of Health.
It is usually the case that waiting times become lower in the spring and summer months but the statistics very clearly show that this was not the case this year. Indeed, Monitor’s fears about the recent figures were evident from the concerned tone of the report. Waiting times are a good indicator of the pressures being felt in the NHS and governments often view waiting times as a measure of the success of healthcare policy.
Patients who are forced to wait for long periods of time in A & E are not only at risk of their conditions worsening but are also more likely to receive substandard care due to the pressure and stress placed on hospital staff. It is therefore of paramount importance that NHS Trusts carefully plan and adjust their budgets over the coming months to ensure that they can meet targets during the winter when A & E admissions are typically very high.
Financially, hospital have been found to be struggling as well. Whereas the number of hospitals running a budgetary deficit was 36 for the first quarter in 2012/13, this figure has now climbed to 48 for the same spell this year. The combined deficit stood at nearly £75m however Monitor as quickly pointed out that a handful or struggling trusts are largely to blame for this number, such as the £40m black hole at Peterborough’s trust. Cuts have also failed to achieve the desired effect with nearly £60 million less being saved than the government had hoped for. The reason behind this may be the fact that that rising demand made it impossible to make further savings.
Whist the sector was found to be struggling to find efficiency savings, Monitor did add that the healthcare sector was generating nearly 10% more revenue than predicted meaning that it was performing above the level that had initially been forecast.
According to Monitor’s figures, nearly 1 million patients faced waits exceeding four hours in A & E units last year, the poorest result in 10 years. The Department of Health has blamed the shortcomings on a growing number of elderly patients in particular over the last 4 years. In response, an extra £15m of public money has been pledged to help trusts improve waiting times.
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