Skip to content
Press release

NHS performance narrative acclimatised to the extraordinary

Commenting on the latest monthly NHS performance data, Sarah Woolnough, Chief Executive of The King’s Fund, said: 

‘Five years ago, these numbers would have been difficult to comprehend. The narrative of NHS performance has become acclimatised to the extraordinary. We used to comment about 18-week waits for routine care rather than 65 weeks, or talk about winter pressures rather than year-round crises.  

‘Today’s figures show that it is unlikely that most of the targets set by the government for the NHS to meet by March 2024 will be achieved. Those targets had already been watered down from the standards set out in the NHS Constitution. 

‘The government set interim targets such as 76% of people being seen within four hours in A&E, compared with the NHS standard of 95%. Ministers also set the expectation that no heart attack or stroke patients would wait more than 30 minutes for an ambulance, far longer than the NHS standard of 18 minutes. Even with these lower goals, both these targets are unlikely to be met by the end of the month.

‘In the coming days, we can expect to see the publication of new national guidance for the year ahead, which we suspect will be a continued departure from the NHS constitutional standards. 

‘While industrial action and the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated pressures, the decline of performance is now over a decade long due to political failure to address the multiple pressures facing health and care services. Last week, the government announced a productivity drive in the NHS that will kick in from next year. While this commitment is welcome, more needs to be done if the government is serious about long-term progress. The solutions will lie in bolstering out-of-hospital care such as primary, community and social care services, making health and care a more attractive place to build a career, and ramping up efforts to help people live healthier lives.’  

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.

Contact the press team