The government prepares to unravel NHS national targets in an attempt to “boost efficiency,” as part of the recommendations of a review led by a former Labor health secretary.
Patricia Hewitt spearheaded the government-commissioned project revision in the NHS in England, looking at how new integrated care systems (ICS) could operate efficiently. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the assessment during the fall budget.
Labor has warned the government that removing these targets is tantamount to “removing the standards altogether”. Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said the answer to the problems facing the National Health Service was to “reduce waiting times, not lower standards for patients.”
The review was launched in the hope that ICS can function with fewer national targets and more scrutiny to hold them accountable for performance and spending.
The newspaper i reported that most of the England targets would be scrapped, with greater emphasis on local management of the health system in a similar way to schools.
Streeting said: “After years of failing to meet basic standards for patients, the government is now looking to water down or scrap the standards altogether. The answer is to reduce wait times, not lower standards for patients. It’s a shame that patients spend 24 hours in the ER, that victims of suspected heart attacks and strokes wait about an hour for an ambulance, and that patients have waited longer for cancer care every year since 2010.
“The next Labor government will agree a plan with the NHS to reduce waiting times to safe and acceptable levels, and will start working towards it immediately. At the heart of that plan will be our promise to train a new generation of doctors and nurses, paid for by the abolition of non-dom tax status.”
Figures from the NHS show that 68.9% of emergency patients in England were seen within four hours last month, up from 69.3% in October, making it their worst performance on record. The health service has a goal of at least 95% of patients coming to the ER being seen within four hours, but this has not been met nationally since 2015.
When Hewitt’s review was announced in November, it was tasked with exploring how to “empower local leaders,” including “reducing the number of national targets.”
Hewitt was thought of as a modernizer in the Blair years, having worked as health secretary in his final administration. He served as the Member of Parliament for Leicester West from 1997 to 2010.
An initial draft of Hewitt’s report is expected by the end of January, with a final version due in mid-March.
Announcing Hewitt’s new role advising on the new NHS administrative units, Hunt said: “I have asked the former health secretary and chairman of the integrated care system for Norfolk and Waveney patricia hewitt to help me and the secretary of health [to advise] us on how to make sure the new comprehensive care boards function well with appropriate autonomy and accountability.”