The National Audit Office (NAO), the independent Parliamentary spending watchdog, has published a report about NHS waiting times for elective and cancer treatment which compares existing waiting time standards against current performance.

Only 38% of trusts met the 62-day waiting time from referral to cancer treatment while 78.6% of patients were treated within this timescale against a standard of 85%.

The report, which was published on 22 March 2019, notes that until recently most standards for care were reached but this has declined over the last five years. The 62-day standard has not been met since the end of 2013.

Figures for the waiting time for elective treatment were broadly similar with only 44% of NHS trusts meeting the standard and 87.3% of patients waiting less than the 18 weeks recommended against a standard of 92%.

While longer waits usually result only in inconvenience and discomfort, they could be detrimental to some patients for whom earlier treatment would improve the chances of a positive outcome.

The NAO reviewed 43 trusts’ board papers raising concerns about harm caused by lengthy waiting times and estimated that 40% of negligence claims against the NHS are related to failures or delays in diagnosis or treatment. Damages were paid in 56% of these cases at a total cost of some £600 million.

According to the watchdog, the reduced performance is closely associated with constraints on capacity with lack of finance, staff and beds as contributing factors to delays in treatment as well as a growing demand. Significant additional investment will be required from the NHS to meet these standards again.