Patients are being put at risk due to the continued failure of NHS to meet the waiting-time target, MPs say.
A damning report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published today criticises both the Department of Health and NHS England for the situation.
The investigation found that only 38 per cent of NHS trusts were meeting the 62-day waiting-time target for cancer patients to begin treatment after an urgent referral by their GP.
The report said national health bodies “lack curiosity” and warned about the risks of patients coming to harm as a result of increasingly long waiting times.
“When waiting times are longer, patients may experience additional pain, anxiety and inconvenience,” MPs said.
PAC chairwoman, Meg Hillier, said: “It is unacceptable that the proportion of patients being treated within NHS waiting times standards is continuing to spiral downwards; NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care must regain control.”
The Committee called on the NHS to outline and commit to a firm timescale along with a plan to steer waiting times standards back on course to prevent further decline.
“The impact on individuals of protracted waiting times cannot be ignored… It is essential that a definitive answer is given as soon as possible, to either provide peace of mind or to allow treatment to begin at the earliest stage,” the MPs observed.
In response, Nick Ville, director of policy at NHS Confederation, called the report a further proof of how important it was for the NHS to implement to the vision set out in the Long Term Plan.
“The skilled and dedicated staff working in front-line NHS services continue to do all they can for patients, but there is only so far they can stretch,” he said.
The King’s Fund, an independent charity working to improve England’s health and care, stressed the need for a clearer focus and understanding of the impact long waits have on patient health and wellbeing.
“The NHS is currently reviewing its waiting times targets. But changing waiting time targets alone will not solve the underlying pressures that have led us to this point. Without an effective workforce strategy and increased investment in diagnostics equipment, staff training and social care, the NHS will have little hope of meeting current or new performance targets,” said Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at the King’s Fund.