NHS money worries remain despite improvements in waiting times and ambulance responses

Hospitals in north-east London have seen improvements in waiting times and service, though the financial picture remains bleak.

Ambulance response times have dropped, while fewer people are waiting longer than a year for treatment at certain health centres.

But NHS officials have warned that reaching the government’s target of breaking even by the end of the current financial year will be “enormously challenging”.

Emergency calls taken by the London Ambulance Service in boroughs like Waltham Forest and Redbridge were dealt with in an average of 39 minutes, down from 52. The “sickest” patients are still being seen within eight minutes, in line with national aims.

In April 2023, more than 55,000 patients at Barts Health centres – in Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets, and Newham – were facing waits of 65 weeks or more. That number was down to 3,039 in February, with a target of 1,500 by the end of March.

A spokesperson from the trust said in a report, put before northeast London councillors on Wednesday (April 24): “Our operational performance continues to be impacted by industrial action.

“Despite this and pressures in urgent care, all our hospitals were able to run more elective activity than in previous periods of industrial actions focusing on our P2 [patients needing treatment within a month], cancer and long wait cases.”

Elsewhere, performances appear to be faltering.

North East London Foundation Trust (NELFT), which provides a range of health services for more than two-million people, reported that 85 per cent of adults were referred to community health services within 18 weeks. That figure is below the target of 92 per cent.

A further 72 per cent are referred to mental health services within that time frame – 20 per cent below target.

Around the Easter bank holiday weekend, workers at ELFT declared an internal incident that lasted eight days due to pressures on services and a shortage of free beds.

In response, NHS North East London (NEL) has formed an improvement strategy for handling mental health crises and urgent and emergency care, commonly shortened to UEC.

Healthcare providers under NELFT have developed a scheme to provide more proactive, preventative and integrated care. On top of adding twelve new inpatient beds, the board has also looked into sending out mental health professionals in response cars to “divert attention away from A&E”.

Additionally, officials are working with Metropolitan Police to “ensure the right professionals respond” to those in need of urgent help.

Going into 2024, the integrated care board (ICB) faced a deficit of £36.9m.

It reflected the pressures weighing on the body from healthcare commitments, overspending on prescriptions, mental health provision, and the impact of industrial action between December and February.

NHS NEL is developing a ‘financial recovery plan’ to restabilise itself, it says, having approved £82m of cuts, referred to as efficiencies, in June 2023.

Henry Black, the chief financial officer, said the ICB and the wider NHS system faced “very significant” financial challenges.

ICBs across the country have been told by Westminster to break even by the start of May 2025, the end of the current financial year, but officials say this will prove “enormously” difficult.

During the committee meeting on Wednesday, a representative confirmed the ‘business case’ for the new Whipps Cross Hospital car park had been approved.

The Leytonstone hospital will be demolished and rebuilt by 2030 as part of the government’s slow-moving New Hospitals Programme, launched in 2020.

The developers will now be able to finalise their designs, with construction earmarked for the summer. The new car park is expected to be finished some time in 2025.

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Sebastian Mann

Local democracy reporter