Background to the report

NHS services have been under increasing pressure in recent years, particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have previously reported on the NHS’s efforts to tackle the backlogs in elective care and its progress with improving mental health services in England.

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Scope of the report

This report gives a factual overview of NHS services that may be used when people need rapid access to urgent, emergency, or other non-routine health services, and whether such services are meeting the performance standards the NHS has told patients they have a right to expect.

It covers:

  • general practice
  • community pharmacy
  • 111 calls
  • ambulance services (including 999 calls)
  • urgent treatment centres
  • accident and emergency (A&E) departments

Specialist services such as optometry, dentistry, paediatrics, and tertiary care are outside the scope of this report. NHS England (NHSE) considers that the combination of StrepA, influenza and COVID-19 in winter 2022-23 significantly exacerbated the challenges it already faced. We have not sought to isolate or quantify the impact of these factors.

Concluding remarks

More people than ever before are receiving unplanned and urgent NHS care every day. To support these services, the NHS is spending increasing amounts of public money and employing record numbers of people. Nevertheless, patients’ satisfaction and access to services have been worsening, suggesting there is no single, straightforward solution to improving what is a complex and interdependent system.

NHSE’s recovery plan for urgent and emergency care aims to improve services by March 2024. The long-term trends in workforce, activity, spending and performance indicate this will be a significant challenge.


Publication details

Press release

View press release (21 Jun 2023)

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