Hospitals must clear their backlogs of planned operations over the summer to help the NHS get “back on track for sustainable delivery” before autumn, NHS England’s deputy chief executive said yesterday.

Dame Barbara Hakin told NHS England’s May board meeting a “programme of work” was being rolled out to ensure the health service was back on top of its elective workload before urgent care pressures began to rise in winter.

Missing the 18-week elective care target had been “disappointing”, she said and NHS England was working with the NHS Trust Development Authority, Monitor, trusts and councils to redress catch up.

HSJ understands the matter is being treated with particular urgency due to pressure from the Department of Health.

She added: “This is not about NHS staff not doing a really great job. It’s about a demand in need which we need to respond.

“I think we will need a few months to make sure that those who have waited longest who need to be treated can [be]; we can do that over the summer, which is the appropriate time before we get to the business of the winter period with urgent care; so we can put the NHS back on track for sustainable delivery from the autumn.”

HSJ revealed last month that the NHS breached the target for 90 per cent of admitted patients to start treatment within 18 weeks for the first time since 2011 in February.

Only 89.9 per cent of admitted patients started treatment within 18 weeks in February. However, the non-admitted and incomplete pathway targets of 95 per cent and 92 per cent were surpassed, recording 96.3 per cent and 93.5 per cent respectively.

HSJ previously reported that nationwide performance against the 18 week targets was declining.