The King's Fund welcomes NHS achievements outlined in Chief Executive's report but points to remaining challenges for 2005

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Responding to today's launch of the NHS Chief Executive's annual report on key NHS targets and performance, The King's Fund chief executive Niall Dickson said:

'Sir Nigel Crisp has reason to be pleased. We have seen reductions in hospital waiting times, improvements in access to services, good progress in accident and emergency and a lower number of premature deaths. The recent public health White Paper's focus on the NHS as an organisation that tries to keep people as healthy as possible, rather than just responding when they are sick is also encouraging.

'But the future for the health service is extremely uncertain. We are embarking on a major experiment using market forces which may extend choice for patients but could create instability and we remain concerned that not enough is being done to improve the health of the most disadvantaged groups.

'There are three immediate challenges for the NHS. More needs to be done for people with long term conditions, such as diabetes, asthma and the hundreds of thousands suffering from depression and other mental health problems. Secondly, we need to train and recruit enough staff, in the right places, doing the right things. And third, we need to find better ways of measuring what the health service actually achieves - we may agree that it is doing more but we also need to know about the quality of care and treatment patients are receiving.'

He added: 'This is a crucial moment for the NHS. While central targets have had an impact in helping to improve the health service, on their own they are not enough. Now we are moving to a new landscape, with more and varied organisations providing health care - that may not be a bad thing but we need to make sure that there is stability and that patients do not suffer from the unintended consequences of another round of radical reform.'

Notes to editors

1. For further information or interviews, please contact The King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585.

2. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through grants. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership and education courses; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.