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Press release

NHS performance as we approach 2024 election unfathomable 10 years ago

Responding to the latest NHS performance data, Siva Anandaciva, Chief Analyst at The King’s Fund, said: 

‘Today’s performance figures cover the traditionally quieter spring and summer period, yet they show the NHS is still under incredible pressure with patients waiting far longer than they should for care. It’s no surprise that the NHS is again at the top of many polls on what matters most to voters as we head towards a general election. 

‘In the 2015 election, NHS waiting times were almost neutralised as a political topic because they were still broadly met month in, month out. But heading into this election, waiting list targets are routinely missed up and down the length of England and we are seeing performance challenges that would have been unfathomable 10 years ago. 

‘The latest figures show more than one in four of people waited more than the target of four hours in A&E, people are waiting 33 minutes on average for an ambulance for emergency cases such as strokes and heart attacks when the target is 18 minutes. The waiting list for routine operations has continued to increase, and now stands at 7.6 million, which is higher than last month, higher than this time last year, and dramatically higher than the 2019 election – when it stood at 4.6 million. The public still firmly back the existing taxpayer-funded NHS model, but satisfaction with services has declined to the lowest level since records began in 1983. 

‘This week, political parties are setting out how they would tackle the crisis facing our health and care service, should they be elected. This includes how they believe they would ‘meet the moment’ of an NHS that has faced a global pandemic, sustained declines in performance, endemic workforce shortages and industrial action. But more than anything, the public deserve honesty and realism – history suggests that improvements to NHS performance will take time, money and staff to deliver. 

‘Any future government serious about changing the downward spiral of NHS performance needs to look beyond what is happening within hospitals. There needs to be a plan to bolster community and primary care, make good on the much-needed social care reform that previous governments have failed to deliver, and invest in the full range of preventive measures that can help keep people healthy in the first place. 

‘High on the to-do list of the winning party will be finding a solution to resolve ongoing industrial disputes taking place across the NHS. The strikes didn’t cause the NHS backlog, but they make waiting lists harder to clear, impacting patient care and sapping the morale of the existing workforce. 

‘History has shown that the NHS can deliver better care and shorter waits for patients when it is given the right resources and has a coherent improvement plan. At the end of the day, politicians, national bodies, health care staff and the public all want timely and high-quality care to be available for all – it is now up to the next government to make that possible.’ 

Notes to editors

For further information, or to request an interview, please contact the Press and Public Affairs team on 020 7307 2585. 

The King's Fund is an independent charity working to improve health and care in England. We help to shape policy and practice through research and analysis; develop individuals, teams and organisations; promote understanding of the health and social care system; and bring people together to learn, share knowledge and debate. Our vision is that the best possible health and care is available to all. 

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