NHS Delvering say Department of Health

The quality of NHS care is continuing to improve, with maximum waits for operations down to six months and more than nine out of ten A&E patients seen within four hours, reports acting chief executive of the NHS, Sir Ian Carruthers, in his first six-month report published today.

His report also reveals that NHS finances are starting to stabilise. Official NHS figures show that the NHS overspend has fallen by around £110 million over the last six months to just over £512 million. The NHS deficit represents less than one per cent (0.8 per cent) of the annual NHS budget, with more than two thirds of this sum accounted for by about one-tenth of all NHS organisations.

The NHS has improved access to services by reducing maximum waiting times. The maximum waiting time for inpatient admissions is down to six months. For outpatient appointments, the maximum waiting time has fallen to 13 weeks, and 98 per cent of A&E patients are now seen within four hours. Cancer patients are being treated faster than ever before, with nine out of ten patients treated within 2 months of an urgent GP referral.

Sir Ian Carruthers said: “We are not only delivering more and improved health services, but also a much better quality of care for patients. By next year, spending on the NHS will have trebled in a decade. The extra resources are already making big differences everywhere.

“Waiting times are shorter than ever and lives are being saved through reductions in deaths from cancer, circulatory disease, coronary heart disease and suicides.

“Financial problems are being addressed. Reform is not the reason for the overspend or the reported job losses, it is the solution. The reforms are uncovering problems hidden for years and provide incentives to ensure the NHS can return to financial balance. They also provide more benefits to patients, through greater choice, more personalised services, and new ways of working.

“It’s imperative we now focus on returning the NHS to balance and help those organisations facing the biggest financial challenges.”

Sir Ian challenges reports that the NHS is suffering from widespread redundancies, revealing that the NHS is keeping compulsory cuts to a minimum by redeploying staff, redesigning roles and reducing the use of expensive agency staff.

His report confirms there are more staff working in the NHS than ever before. In September 2005, over 1.3 million people were employed in the NHS, an increase of over 300,000 or 29 per cent since 1997. {mospagebreak}

The report also outlines the initial success of additional measures to return the NHS to financial balance. Experienced ‘turnaround directors’ have now been appointed in each of the new Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs) and all bar one of the NHS organisations requiring urgent intervention have already received support.

Initial estimates in the report show that some turnaround organisations are identifying savings of up to 8 per cent of turnover and that 23 out of the 65 organisations needing action are already saying they expect to achieve balance by the end of the financial year.

Sir Ian also announced that financial figures for NHS organisations would be published on a quarterly basis.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt added: “I’m grateful to Sir Ian for his report. It shows that, despite the criticisms levelled at the NHS over the last few months, there have been record improvements in terms of faster access to treatment and quality of care.

“I’ve always been clear that there should be no trade-off between high quality patient care and actions to improve financial management. Sir Ian’s report provides definitive proof that the NHS is delivering for patients.

“I know there are financial challenges in a minority of organisations but it is encouraging that the provisional end-of-year figures show that the minority of trusts that are overspending are now focusing on their problems and putting plans in place to tackle the issue.

“The end of year position is the equivalent of a person on an annual wage of £20,000 overspending by around £160. It’s a problem, but a manageable problem.

“Last year, I agreed to publish the mid-year financial position – the first time ever this had been done. Publishing the quarterly figures will further increase the Department’s commitment to financial transparency.”

The first set of quarterly financial figures for the NHS will be published later this summer.