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NHS cuts: key Labour health targets axed

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 21 June 2010

The coalition government is binning a slew of key Labour NHS targets, including efforts to cut waiting time for GP appointments and A&E treatment.

The coalition government is binning a slew of key Labour NHS targets (Image: Getty)

NHS costs will be cut back by £220m this year alone, climbing to £350m by 2011/12 - with a view to saving a total of £850m by 2013/14.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "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."

The removal of key targets will see management costs almost halved. "Doctors will be free to focus on the outcomes that matter - providing quality patient care," Lansley said.

While the cut backs are scheduled over the next four years, Lansley said it was crucial to make "immediate" savings that would be reinvested in care.

The target for all patients to see their GP within 48 yours is to be scrapped, as is the need for 50 per cent of GP surgeries to offer extended opening hours.

The coalitions plan will also see the running of Accident and Emergency waiting rooms relaxed - with targets to treat 98 per cent of patients within 4 hours scaled back to 95 per cent.

Meanwhile, the 3-month deadline to see patients through from referral to treatment will no longer be prioritised - although patients will retain the right to ask for treatment during that timeframe.

Dr Jennifer Dixon, director of Nuffield Trust, welcomed the coalition's move to scrap targets, pointing out that too many targets can demotivate staff and have "perverse effects locally".

However, she added: "Given that waiting for care is such a key part of patient experience on which the NHS is judged by the public, and given the miserable history of long waiting times in the NHS in the past, waiting times should remain firm targets."

Lansley argues that patients will still be entitled to rights under the NHS Constitution, "and the quality of their experiences and outcomes are what will drive improvements in the future."

But Katherine Murphy, director of the Patients Association, warned that removing targets could remove the focus on improving services.

She said: "We have always supported reviewing the targets. They have been so heavily criticised and some had no substantial clinical evidence supporting them.

"But we have never supported abolishing the targets and not putting in place something to replace them.

"We might not have agreed with what they focused minds on, but that does not mean we advocate a return to a free-for-all."

Meanwhile, Ruth Spellman, chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute said the government is right to act now "before bad management costs lives".

It is an ideal time to review the standards of leadership and remove sub-standard managers, she added.

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