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In a slightly curious move this week, NHS England issued a congratulatory message claiming the health service was on course to meet recently introduced elective targets.

These targets, announced as part of the phase 3 recovery plan, included achieving 80 per cent of elective activity (against 2019-20 numbers) by September, increasing to 90 per cent by October. This message accompanied full performance data for August which was published the same day.

Headline achievements were that for September the NHS carried out 80 per cent of the planned hospital inpatient procedures which it did last year.

It also stated that 96 per cent of last year’s level of CT scans were carried out, and 86 per cent of MRI.

It was an unusual announcement for a number of reasons: 1) NHSE doesn’t often issue “mission accomplished” statements alongside performance data 2) it celebrated meeting September targets but only provided full evidence for August, and 3) the August data painted a less jubilant portrait.

For a start, August reports showed activity levels growing less steeply than it did in July, with admitted procedures growing by around 13,000 (compared to growth of nearly 50,000 from June to July).

Between July and August, there was also very little growth in diagnostic activity, with only around 1,500 more tests performed month-on-month.

The speculation is that trusts, already observing infection control and social distancing guidance, are now reaching safe capacity levels. Therefore, the opportunity to increase capacity to that seen last year may be limited.

The recovery targets NHSE set earlier this year seemed highly ambitious. Linking them to financial incentives, however, clearly indicated the centre’s belief they could be achieved.

With covid infection rates continuing to skyrocket though, and stats suggesting a sluggish restart, we might see fewer victory marches from now on.