Public Accounts Committee: recovery programme falling short

In a new report, the Public Accounts Committee has warned that 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.

The Committee said that 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 expressed serious doubts that the wider NHS recovery plan will be achieved on time.

It added that 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.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, commented: “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.”

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