Sandwell doctor slams Government over suggestions A&E waiting targets could be scrapped
A senior Black Country doctor has blasted the Government over suggestions the four-hour A&E target could be scrapped.
David Nicholl, a consultant neurologist at Sandwell Hospital, claimed it showed the Government was trying to avoid scrutiny over NHS performance.
The target of having 95 per cent of patients seen within four hours is the most prominent indicator of how A&E departments are performing, but hardly any hospitals in the country are actually meeting it.
A&E performance nationally is the worst since the target was introduced in 2004.
Performance of NHS trusts in the Black Country and Staffordshire ranges between 70 and 80 per cent, though in official reports both Dudley Group NHS Trust and Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust, which run Russells Hall and Walsall Manor, combine performance figures with urgent care centres, which are normally close to 100 per cent, pushing up the overall figure.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said targets needed to be "clinically appropriate".
“It’s far better to have targets that are clinically appropriate and supported by clinicians," he said.
But Mr Nicholl suggested the Government was only planning to get rid of the targets because performance is so bad.
He said: "This is the Government trying to sidestep scrutiny by moving the goalposts. 'Let's get rid of the targets, problem solved - it's embarrassing so stop measuring it'.
"I think (the target) is an indication of the failures there have been in terms of the health service.
"They should be measuring the same target. If you are measuring the same target for a number of years at least you can see."
Toby Lewis, chief executive of the Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, which runs Sandwell and Birmingham City hospitals, has refused to criticise the 95 per cent target, arguing that even something isn't achievable it doesn't mean the organisation shouldn't strive to try and meet it.
Mike Wood, Conservative MP for Dudley South, said: "The important thing is to get everybody seen if they can be. That is more important than how targets are structured.
"I'm more concerned about people being stuck on trolleys for hours after they have initially been seen, when that target has been ticked off.
"People know when they have got a good A&E and where it's not working."
The University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS Trust, which runs Stafford's County Hospital, and Royal Stoke Hospital, said quality of care was what mattered most. Latest A&E performance at Royal Stoke is as low as 57 per cent.
A spokeswoman said: "People’s experiences of A&E are often not solely determined by the length of time they wait to be seen, but the quality of the care they receive. This is why the four-hour wait target for A&E has been under review with colleagues nationally across the NHS taking part in pilot studies. We await the outcomes of the pilots with interest.”