NHS Chief Executive, Sir Nigel Crisp today reported that sustained improvements to services for patients were being accelerated, with measurable improvements in productivity throughout the NHS.
Official figures confirm that - with a handful of exceptions - the NHS has hit the Government's NHS Plan target of ensuring that no patients wait more than nine months for an operation. Waiting times have fallen faster and further this year than ever before, and the maximum waiting time is now half what it was in 1997.
This is the tenth successive month the waiting list has been below a million and the total is at its lowest since September 1988.
In his annual report 2003/4, Sir Nigel also set out how the extra £5.9 billion spent on the NHS in England has purchased significant improvements in productivity.
Compared to last year there were:
- 167,000 more elective operations in hospital than last year
- 197,000 more procedures carried out in primary care and outpatients
- Faster treatment in A&E - 94% of patients now seen and treated within 4 hours
- 32.7 million more prescriptions in the community and 30% more statins (life-saving drugs)
- 59,000 more NHS staff - doctors, nurses and other front-line staff
Sir Nigel Crisp said:
"Something big is happening within the NHS. Not only are we hitting all of our targets, in order to speed up patient care, but by reforming the way we work we are also improving the quality of patient care. The NHS is using the extra funding to good effect, with major improvements in quality and quantity.
"Waiting times have fallen faster and further this year than ever before. Death rates from the major killers, cancer and coronary heart disease, are falling quickly. More staff have been recruited, and more buildings and equipment brought into use.
"Many more treatments are now being provided outside hospitals, more quickly and more conveniently for patients. Services are being redesigned to be more efficient and effective with staff taking on new roles and responsibilities. Patients are beginning to be offered more choice and more influence over their services.
"Whilst we do not yet have an adequate way of measuring the overall productivity of the NHS, we can be proud of these clear improvements that have been made in the productivity of individual services. We have measurable improvements in outcomes such as mortality rates and the speed in which we treat patients. Extra NHS activity is taking place in the community, in primary care settings, in Walk-in Centres and through NHS Direct.
"These improvements are due to the hard work of literally thousands of people in the NHS and its partner organisations. We owe them a great deal. However we haven't cracked it yet. There is clearly much more to do to ensure the NHS is as good as we want it to be in every area. Our challenge is to continue to listen to patients, and involve the public wherever possible, if we are to truly aspire to the vision outlined in the NHS Plan."
Health Secretary John Reid said:
"I am delighted by this latest confirmation that the NHS is improving, but I'm not complacent. Year on year the trend on both waiting lists and waiting times is clearly downwards. More people are having more treatment more quickly than ever before. This latest assessment of NHS successes is testament to the hard work and dedication of thousands of people. Progress is being made fast and visibly and I thank every member of the NHS for their contribution, but we have still have a long way to go."
Headlines in the report which confirm increases in productivity include:
- long waits for inpatient treatment have been cut dramatically. Only 48 patients, for whom English commissioners are responsible, have waited more than 9 months for an operation. The average wait is far lower at 10.2 weeks
- the maximum wait for outpatient treatment is now 17 weeks, down from 21 weeks a year ago
- 97% of patients were seen by a GP within 48 hours of booking an appointment - up nearly 23% since 2002.
- 94% of patients were seen and treated within four hours of arrival at A&E
- more than one and a half million patients used a walk in centre
- the number of patients delayed in their discharge from hospital is falling sharply - down 30% last year