Poor access to key NHS services 'putting lives at risk'

Accident & Emergency entrance

Differing access to key NHS services, such as stroke, cancer and diabetes care, is costing lives and putting people's health at risk, according to a new report by NHS England and Public Health England.

The NHS Atlas of Variation details the service performance of more than 200 local areas. It found concerning variations in care between the best and worst performing areas. In the best areas, 56% of patients are diagnosed with cancer when the disease is at an early stage, increasing their chances of survival. Only 30% of patients are diagnosed in the worst performing areas.

Some 72% of patients get the right diabetes checks in the best-performing areas – compared to only 42% in the worst, where four times as many patients have to undergo foot amputations.

Eight out of ten people are admitted to a stroke unit within four hours of arrival at hospital in the best-performing areas – compared to around one-in-three in the worst areas.

It's not just cancer, stroke and diabetes care affected. The report also found that people suffering from psychosis were six times more likely to get help from specialist early intervention teams in the best-performing areas.

Prof Julia Verne, from Public Health England, said: "It is really important to tackle this unwarranted variation because patient lives are being put at risk. If we can iron them out then more patients will survive, they will have fewer complications and they will have better quality of life."

Alexis Wieroniey, of the Stroke Association, said: "Immediate treatment on a stroke patient is essential as this helps to minimise the long-term effects and can prevent death. The wide-ranging variation in the time it takes people to be admitted to a stroke unit across England is extremely concerning and it is unacceptable that too many people are still not admitted within four hours.

"Wherever they live, people must have an equal chance in getting the immediate treatment they need to make their best possible recovery from stroke."

And Nick Ormiston-Smith, Cancer Research UK's head of statistics, said: "We know that catching cancer early saves lives. Diagnosing the disease at an early stage means patients have the best chance of their treatment being successful. Improving early diagnosis and ensuring patients get the best possible treatments must be a priority for the NHS."

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