'Patients can unfortunately expect long waits for care to continue': The King's Fund comments on patient surveys and performance data

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Today sees the publication of monthly hospital performance data and the GP Patient Survey 2020 results, revealing significant challenges ahead for the health service. Our experts say patients ‘can unfortunately expect long waits for care to continue’ and we need ‘honest conversations with patients and the public about what they can realistically expect’.

Commenting on the monthly performance data on accident and emergency, referral to treatment and diagnostics, Siva Anandaciva, Chief Analyst at The King’s Fund, said:

‘This data lays bare the enormous challenge facing NHS services across the country. The number of patients waiting over a year for planned care is rocketing up, as are waits for key diagnostic tests.

‘Hospitals are now starting to see more patients for routine care, but the recovery is still in its early stages, with a long and difficult road ahead. It will take time for services to bounce back to previous levels of activity due to physical distancing, infection control and the need to give hard-working health and care staff much-needed respite in the coming months.

‘As well as the challenges faced by NHS hospitals, there are other front lines in social care, primary and community services and mental health care that are less visible in today’s figures. The focus needs to be on getting all aspects of the health and care system back up and running. Even then, patients can unfortunately expect long waits for care to continue.’

Commenting on the GP Patient Survey 2020 and the Adult Inpatient Survey 2019 published this month, Dan Wellings, Senior Fellow at The King’s Fund, said:

‘The two large scale national patient surveys published in the last week but carried out before Covid-19 hit show overall patient experience of hospitals and GPs is still good, despite the well-documented pressures on the system. The vast majority of respondents (87 per cent) of the GP Patient Survey said they were treated with care and concern. Similarly, 8 out of 10 inpatients (81 per cent) said they were always treated with dignity and respect while in hospital.

‘However, while the overall experience is good once they are in, patients are finding it increasingly hard to access services. People’s overall experience of making an appointment with their GP has dropped significantly over the past few years. This year only 65 per cent of people found it easy to reach their GP practice on the phone, down from 80 per cent in 2012. The results from the Inpatient Survey over the past few years show the impact that increasing waiting times are having on people’s experiences around access. It is also clear that more work needs to be done to ensure that people receive the right information and support when they are leaving hospitals.

‘These issues are likely to be exacerbated by the backlog of referrals and procedures that have built up during the Covid-19 pandemic. We need to have honest conversations with patients and the public about what they can realistically expect from the health service in the coming year as services struggle to meet demand.

‘There has been a reported increase in use of digital technologies to access general practice during the Covid-19 pandemic and about half of GP appointments were carried out by phone in May, but increasing use of technology will not by itself solve the complex problems of access. Ultimately, to meet people’s needs we will need to recruit and retain more doctors and other healthcare professionals to fulfil appointments, whether they’re in-person, on the phone or online.’

Notes to editors

For further information, or to request an interview, please contact the Press and Public Affairs team on 07584 146035 or mediaoffice@kingsfund.org.uk.

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.