The NHS in England will not meet its targets for improving cancer care or reducing waiting lists, a committee of MPs says today.

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The House of Commons public accounts committee says it has “serious doubts” that an NHS recovery plan will be achieved.

Referring to the seven million strong waiting list, it says NHS England made unrealistic assumptions about the first year of its recovery plan, including expecting low levels of COVID-19 and underestimating the effects of winter pressures.

The committee demanded government action to increase adult social care capacity, as well as finally publishing an “overdue” plan to get a “productive” healthcare workforce of the right size.

Committee members have stated that no patient should ever have to wait more than 104 days for cancer treatment, and yet 8,100 people waited for this time between April and August last year.

Committee chair Meg Hillier 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.

“NHS England must lift its sights and refocus on its strategic duty to offer direction to the whole NHS. This means difficult trade-offs to address historical inequalities between areas, to reconstitute a depleted, exhausted workforce that is on its knees, and to rebuild a crumbling physical estate that is in dangerous condition in many places. We do not expect the NHS to achieve the significant and ambitious targets of its current recovery plan, but it must now step up and show that leadership for a realistic way forward, with targets that have patients seeing the real improvements.”

Royal College of Surgeons president, Professor Neil Mortenson, has said that staff shortages are helping to worsen a “challenging” picture.

He said: “NHS staff have worked incredibly hard to make sure the longest waits for surgery have been dramatically reduced over the last year. The new surgical hubs, announced by NHS England last month, will significantly help to bring down waiting lists across the country.

“The New Hospitals Programme must continue to consider where surgical hubs feature in its plans and gaps in provision need to be addressed. We would like to see surgical hubs established in every area of the country with a particular focus on those areas that are underserved and struggling to bring down waiting times.

“All of this will mean nothing in the long term unless we have a resilient workforce to staff hubs. The challenging picture at the moment is further exacerbated by staff vacancies across the NHS. For example, a shortage of anaesthetists and theatre nurses create problems for planned surgery. We hope to see the Government’s much anticipated workforce plan very soon.”

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