Is the NHS safe in Cameron's hands?

As the government’s increasingly bitter dispute with Junior Doctors rolls on to the backdrop of a critically overstretched health service, it’s difficult to see how David Cameron can back up his words during the 2015 election campaign that NHS is “safe in my hands”.

Data published by NHS England appears to show A&E waiting times slipping to new lows as patients in need of emergency care wait longer to be admitted to hospital.

One of the hallmarks of the the New Labour years was a focus on performance targets in public service particualry the NHS. This drew criticism from Conservatives and accusations of public sector bodies gaming the system. It’s interesting to observe that when it comes to A&E waiting times, a loosening of targets has coincided with a steep drop in the number of patients waiting less than 4 hours in A&E.[1]

The Coalition government on taking the reigns in 2010 reduced the target for the proportion of A&E attendees being seen in under 4 hours from 98% to 95%. Despite the lower bar, the NHS under the Conservatives appears unable to achieve this as demonstrated by the chart below.

It is a similar story when it comes to the number of patients waiting 12 hours or more from decision to admit to admission. Although still relatively small, the numbers have been steadily rising since 2010, with an unexplained spike in December 2014.

In poking around the public data available on NHS performance, I found a worrying lack of consistency in the reporting between administrations. On top of this, the A&E waiting list data pre-2010 appears not to have been properly archived and as such is no longer available to the public. These historical data gaps make it harder to compare the performance of subsequent governments and truly assess key election pledges around the protection of essential public services.

In any case, the data that is available and in-depth studies of it by groups like the King’s Fund [2] paint a damning picture that put the lie to Cameron’s “safe in my hands” line.

[1] Have targets improved NHS performance? - The King’s Fund

[2] How is the NHS performing? - The King’s Fund