Health and care system stretched beyond its limits as winter approaches

Sarah Scobie responds to the NHS monthly performance stats from NHS England and NHS Improvement.

Press release

Published: 11/11/2021

Responding to the NHS monthly performance stats from NHS England and NHS Improvement, Nuffield Trust Deputy Director of Research Sarah Scobie said:

“We are only at the beginning of a long and difficult winter and it is already clear the health and care system is stretched beyond its limits.

“NHS and care staff are working furiously hard, but addressing the substantial weight of unmet and serious care needs rebounding from the pandemic means longer waits for patients and the ability to meet long-existing standards of care is slipping further out of reach.

“A&E and ambulance services are visibly struggling as record levels of patients come forward with more serious needs, in some cases having put off seeking care because of Covid. One in 10 people are now waiting nearly two hours for an ambulance for life-threatening conditions including strokes and heart attacks.

“There has also been a further fall in the speed at which patients start cancer treatment after a referral from GP, despite national guidance to reduce these waits back to pre-pandemic levels. Over 30% of patients referred are waiting over two months with delays having a serious risk on health outcomes. It is worrying that more people are dealing with managing these serious conditions at home as they wait for care.

“The figures today represent the point of performance the NHS should be back to by the end of winter (March 2022), but meeting even this bar represents an incredibly tough road ahead for staff with the prospect of waits growing even further during the NHS’s most busy time.”

Notes to editors

1.            The latest monthly combined performance figures from NHS England can be found at:

2.            The Nuffield Trust is an independent health think tank. We aim to improve the quality of health care in the UK by providing evidence-based research and policy analysis and informing and generating debate.

3.            For all queries or to arrange an interview, contact Simon Keen: 07780 475571/; or Meesha Patel: 07920 043676 /