Express & Star comment: Will scrapping targets heal the NHS?

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

Trouble meeting NHS targets?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock may move to scrap A&E waiting time targets

Health secretary Matt Hancock is mulling over a simple solution – scrap the targets.

Before people throw up their hands in horror, it should be remembered that there was a time, and not all that long ago, that public institutions, whether they be schools with their performance league tables, or hospitals and their waiting lists, did not operate in an atmosphere in which how they were doing statistically was made public, and could be compared with other schools and hospitals.

And there is an argument that if you introduce any system which makes hitting targets paramount, then all efforts are skewed to meeting those targets by hook or by crook, and you end up in the old Soviet era syndrome where washing machine plants, say, met production targets by making machines, taking them apart, and then making them again.

Could the four-hour A&E waiting time target be scrapped?

Mr Hancock's suggestion that the Government could abandon the four-hour accident and emergency waiting time target comes against a background of the worst performance on record in England under this benchmark.

The target for seeing people within four hours is 95 per cent. The reality is that 81 per cent were seen within that time in November.

His argument is that the waiting times target is no longer an appropriate measure for determining how hospitals are actually doing in treating people.

You get similar arguments about school performance tables, that exam results do not tell the full story and are apt to mislead.


Then there is the pressure that these benchmarks impose. So fearful are staff of faring badly, that they are in danger of becoming servants of the statistics, and not of the people they serve.

There is a flip side too in which hospitals may be appearing to do well when you look at the figures, but anecdotally – and anecdotes of real-life care do not appear in statistical tables – there are patients and loved ones who have had less happy experiences.

Scrapping the targets would take away the political heat on the Government for failing to meet them.

But then how would hospitals know by how much they needed to improve?


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