NHS England set to miss two key targets of COVID recovery plan, new report warns, as MP says health service is in 'full-blow crisis'

NHS England is in "full-blown crisis", health bosses have been warned, as a damning new report by MPs says the health service is set to miss two key targets in its COVID recovery plan.

The report, by the cross-party Public Accounts Committee, warns that NHS England is set to miss its target to reduce the number of people waiting more than 62 days for their first cancer treatment following an urgent GP referral to pre-COVID levels.

The committee also described NHS England's route to increasing elective care activity to 129% of pre-pandemic levels by 2024/25 as "unachievable".

The committee said the plan for tackling COVID backlogs, set out by NHS England and the government last year, was "falling short".

It described the situation with cancer wait times in particular as "unacceptable" and called on the government and NHS England to do "whatever is required" to bring levels back to an acceptable standard.

Commenting on the report, Dame Meg Hillier MP, the committee's chair, said: "Despite a significant cash injection meant to begin to help the recovery from the pandemic, the NHS is in full-blown crisis and all the metrics are going in the wrong direction.

"On the evidence we have received the NHS will not achieve the targets in its recovery plan, and that means health, longevity and quality of life indicators will continue to go backwards for the people of this country.

"That is simply shameful and totally unacceptable in a nation as wealthy as ours."

However, NHS bosses say the report "fails to acknowledge the significant progress made by NHS staff" on the plan -agreed with the government - despite "record pressures seen across the health and care system".

They also said that record numbers of patients had come forward for checks and screenings, while the government said it had opened 92 community diagnostic centres, with 19 more set to open this year.

One particular area of concern raised in the committee's report was over waiting times for cancer treatment, which it described as "especially worrying".

NHS England targets are that 85% of people who have been urgently referred by their GP and have cancer confirmed should start treatment within 62 days.

But only 62% of patients met this target across the year, according to the report.

More than 8,000 people, around 11% of patients, waited more than 104 days between their urgent referral and first treatment.

"It is now clear that the target to reduce the number of people waiting for more than 62 days following an urgent GP referral to the pre-pandemic level will not be met by March 2023," the report warned.

The committee also warned that NHS England was on course to miss its 2025 target, where no patient will have to wait more than 52 weeks for elective care.

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The report said that being so "off track" means more patients are left "waiting too long", and added that cancer waiting times "are at their worst recorded level".

It called for NHS England chiefs to explain how they had spent £14billion of extra funding to help clear the country's health backlog and improve cancer services in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

NHS England's three-year recovery plan, agreed with the government last year, involves setting targets to tackle the added backlog of cancer and elective care patients while focus shifted towards tackling COVID.

Part of the plan involves creating new surgical hubs and community diagnostic centres and using GPs to manage elective care cases instead of sending patients to hospital doctors.