NHS England Operational Planning Guidance for 24/25 published


Last week, just days before the new financial year, NHS England published its Priorities and Operational planning guidance for 2024/25. You can read the full document here. The document outlines key priorities for NHS spending and focus for the year ahead. 

The guidance is important, as it sets out key areas of activity for the health service, and what services will be measured against nationally. For people affected by neurological conditions and members, the guidance provides a steer on what areas the NHS see as important to change or improve.

The targets

The guidance includes more than 30 targets for the health service, including many that are relevant to services for people affected by neurological conditions:

  • Improve community services waiting times with a focus on reducing long waits
  • Eliminate waits of over 65 weeks for elective care as soon as possible and by September 2024 at the latest (except where patients choose to wait longer or in specific specialties)
  • Increase the proportion of all outpatient attendances that are for first appointments or follow-up appointments attracting a procedure tariff to 46% across 2024/25.
  • Improve patients’ experience of choice at point of referral
  • Improve performance against the headline cancer 62-day standard to 70% by March 2025
  • Improve performance against the 28 day Faster Diagnosis Standard for cancer to 77% by March 2025 towards the 80% ambition by March 2026
  • Increase the percentage of cancers diagnosed at stages 1 and 2 in line with the 75% early diagnosis ambition by 2028 
  • Increase the percentage of people that receive a diagnostic test within six weeks in line with the March 2025 ambition of 95%
  • Establish and develop at least one women’s health hub in every ICB by December 2024, working in partnership with local authorities Mental health
  • Increase the number of adults and older adults completing a course of treatment for anxiety and depression via NHS Talking Therapies to 700,000, with at least 67% achieving reliable improvement and 48% reliable recovery
  • Increasing the dementia diagnosis rate to 66.7% by March 2025
  • Ensure 75% of people aged 14 and over on GP learning disability registers receive an annual health check in the year to 31 March 2025
  • Reduce reliance on mental health inpatient care for people with a learning disability and autistic people
  • Continue to address health inequalities and deliver on the Core20PLUS5 approach.

Key target on outpatient follow-up dropped

NHS England has dropped their previous target to cut outpatient follow ups by 25 per cent, which is welcome news. Instead, this is being replaced by a target based on the ratio of all outpatient attendances compared to those which are “pathway completing”. The new national target is specifically to “increase the proportion of all outpatient attendances… attracting a procedure tariff [ie complete a patient’s pathway] to 46 per cent across 2024-25”.

Outpatient efficiencies will be driven by “transformation approaches, including patient initiated follow-up (PIFU) and remote monitoring… We will spread and scale the further faster approach to support this, sharing learning and actions in key specialties”. Neurology and Geriatric Medicine are included in the Further Faster programme. The recommendations are linked to the Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) approach.

Workforce increases to be justified

The guidance also asks trusts to review and justify their staffing increases over the last four years, saying there must now be a drive to “consolidate” services and workforce. Integrated care boards are expected to work with acute trusts to complete a full analysis of current productivity compared to that in 2019-20 and put in place improvement plans.

There is a shortage of specialists for services for people affected by neurological conditions. We will be urging NHS England and Trusts to ensure any improvements to the workforce in recent years are not lost through this measure.

Focus on mental health and primary care

The guidance has once again focussed on mental health. In particular, every Integrated Care System (ICS) should ensure that people with mental health needs, including children and young people, are explicitly included in the plans to recover services.

Every Trust is also expected to have a designated lead for the primary–secondary care interface, and Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) should “regularly review progress” on how secondary care services, including neuroscience services, are working with primary care.

You can find out more about key NHS England workstreams related to neuroscience here. If you have any questions about these, or on the new operational guidance, please contact us  (info@neural.org.uk)