NHS Trusts Voice Fears Over Waiting Time Targets
Some of the top-performing NHS trusts in England are warning they may fail to hit waiting time targets this year, official documents show.
Annual plans from foundation trusts show one in six predicts it will struggle to see patients needing non-emergency operations in time.
Similar numbers expressed concern about A&E waiting times, the review by regulator Monitor showed.
The government said foundation trusts should keep waiting times down.
Foundation trusts are the top-performing organisations in the NHS in England. So far 96 hospital trusts have been granted the status - just under half of the total number in the health service.
But the review of their annual plans by Monitor showed even these trusts were struggling to keep pace with demand and the need to make savings.
Sixteen trusts declared a risk of non-compliance for the 18-week limit for elective care, such as knee and hip replacements.
The warning comes amid growing concerns about the length of time hospitals are keeping patients waiting.
The NHS has been told it should see 90% of in-patients within 18 weeks - the 10% leeway is allowed to reflect the fact that some patients may wait longer for valid personal or medical reasons.
Overall that figure is still being met, according to latest statistics, but that masks what is happening behind the scenes with growing evidence that long waits are on the rise and particular problems in certain specialities.
The Monitor review also revealed another 14 foundation trusts were worried about whether they would be able to keep to the four-hour A&E target.
More than 20 trusts also claimed they may run into financial difficulties in the coming year.
The names of the trusts were not being disclosed by Monitor, but the regulator warned the situation may even be worse if the winter was particularly harsh.
Monitor chairman Dr David Bennett added: "The challenge of reducing costs must be met, but it is essential that good patient care is at the heart of this.
"We are very clear with foundation trusts that savings cannot be made by compromising on quality."
A spokesman for the Department of Health agreed standards should not slip.
"Foundation trusts must demonstrate that they are improving outcomes for patients and managing their finances effectively as well as ensuring that waiting times are kept low."