NHS waiting times targets relaxed and abandoned

NHS Hospital waiting times have been relaxed or scrapped as part of a drive by the new Government to rid the NHS of Labour’s ‘target culture’.

Nursing and doctors’ leaders welcomed the greater flexibility they have been given to treat patients according to clinical need rather than being forced to stick to strict central guidelines.

But patients’ groups expressed concern that the reforms could result in a “free-for-all,” and that without targets long waiting times could return to the NHS.

GPs will no longer be forced to see patients within 48 hours of them seeking an appointment.

The requirement for 98 per cent of patients attending Accident and Emergency wards to be seen within four hours has been relaxed to 95 per cent.

And the target for patients to be given a hospital appointment within 18 weeks of being referred by their GP has been abandoned altogether.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, insisted that people would still have the right to demand high levels of service from the NHS, but that this would be done locally rather than dictated from the centre.

“I want to free the NHS from bureaucracy and targets that have no clinical justification and move to an NHS which measures its performance on patient outcomes,” he added.

“Doctors will be free to focus on the outcomes that matter – providing quality patient care.”

Katherine Murphy, director of the Patients Association, said: “The targets focused minds in the NHS, made people start realising services had to get better.”

But Dr Laurence Buckman, Chairman of the BMA’s GPs Committee, welcomed the relaxation in targets.

He said: “Patients should have good access to GPs. However, while this target may have been intended to improve access it has in fact had adverse consequences.

“At the moment practices need to have enough appointments available on the day or the following day to meet the target, so those who want to book in advance find there are fewer appointments available.”

Under the changes to the NHS Operating Framework, Mr Lansley has also ordered health bodies to reduce management costs from £1.85 billion to £1 billion by 2013.

While spending on the health service will continue at current levels, he said it was crucial to make “immediate” savings which could be reinvested in patient care.

From: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/NHS-waiting-times-are-relaxed-and-abandoned

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