Tories urge overhaul in NHS targets

The Conservatives will today announce plans to scrap many of the government’s targets for the NHS, including waiting times for treatment.

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said existing targets to ensure patients are treated within a set period after they are referred by their GP ignore any further care they may need and can actually distort their overall treatment.

Instead, the party is proposing a system more focused on improving health outcomes, for example calling for cancer survival rates to be increased rather than focusing on simply getting people their first course of treatment within two months of GP referral.

It also believes GPs should be given greater freedom to use their health budgets to achieve this, and should be rewarded according to both their success and that of surrounding healthcare providers where they refer their patients.

“We must move away from ‘one size fits all’ targets, which are centrally imposed. The NHS should be given freedom to make clinical decisions, but be accountable for the outcome,” Mr Lansley will argue later today.

“We propose to use measures of health outcome which reflect the quality of service provided from start to finish of care.”

The government has long used waiting times as proof of the improvement in the NHS – in prime minister’s question time last week, Tony Blair cited how waiting lists had been cut by 400,000 since Labour came to office, and were now an average of seven weeks.

Ministers have also promised to ensure that every patient begins treatment within 18 weeks of being referred by their GP, by 2008, something Mr Blair has said would be a “dramatic improvement” in care.

However, a recent British Medical Association (BMA) survey found a third of medical staff believed trusts were manipulating data to meet the four-hour waiting target for A&E patients, and 58 per cent said the target resulted in people being discharged too soon.

Mr Lansley told BBC One’s The Politics Show yesterday: “The NHS should be measuring the overall outcome.

“For cancer patients, for example, five-year survival rates is the way to do it. Narrowing in on how long people wait for specific treatments is actually distorting the whole process.”

He will also set out how GPs should take responsibility for health budgets and in return, be held accountable for health outcomes through their performance-related pay package.

“The family doctor service is central to the way the NHS should work. We need them to have incentives to deliver the best outcomes for patients and to be able to do so by controlling budgets for their patients,” Mr Lansley will say.

“Giving the family GP more responsibility will mean they can combine clinical decisions with accountability to their patients.”