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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Government to slash NHS targets
Surgeons
The NHS has to meet key targets each year
The government is to slash the number of targets the NHS in England has to achieve each year.

Health Secretary John Reid has said the number of targets will fall from 62 this year to 20 in 2005.

But there will be some new targets, including one aimed at tackling the superbug MRSA.

The government has come under fire in recent years for imposing so many targets on the NHS. Critics say they have distorted clinical priorities.

However, ministers insist they have helped to drive through improvements.

Mr Reid's announcement came just hours after the publication of this year's NHS star ratings.

Targets will still have a role to play
Health Secretary John Reid

The NHS watchdog the Healthcare Commission rated every hospital, ambulance and primary care trust in England using hotel-style stars.

There are more top-rated three star NHS organisations than in previous years. However, some of the government's flagship foundation trusts have slipped down the table.

The commission assessed each organisation against the governments key targets, such as waiting times, cleanliness and financial management.

Some of these targets will be dropped next year. However, NHS organisations will still be expected to achieve them.

"Existing national targets that will have been met by April 2005 - such as waiting times for A&E treatment - will become core standards which providers of care must maintain," the Department of Health said.

New targets

Under the new targets, the NHS will be expected to achieve "year-on-year" reductions in MRSA levels and other hospital acquired infections.

They will also be expected to make progress towards the government's new waiting time target.

Ministers have promised a maximum wait of 18 weeks between a GP referral and the start of treatment by 2008.

This is giving the old target culture a fresh coat of paint
Paul Burstow,
Lib Dem health spokesman
Other targets will aim to improve the care of people with long-term conditions so that the spend less time in hospital and the health of people from ethnic minorities

Local NHS providers will also be given the power to set their own targets.

"Reduction in national targets does not mean a let-up in ensuring high performance," Mr Reid said. "Targets will still have a role to play."

But opposition parties have criticised the decision.

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley MP said: "Instead of boasting about reducing the number of targets, Reid should be apologising.

"Years of excessive targets has led to distorted clinical priorities, rampant bureaucracy and has prevented hospitals getting to grips with the clinical needs of patients."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow said: "John Reid is trying to have his cake and eat it.

"On the one hand he is pretending to stop the barrage of targets, while he is still publishing new ones. This is giving the old target culture a fresh coat of paint."

The Terrence Higgins Trust criticised the decision not to set a new target for tackling rising rates of sexually transmitted infections.

"It's neglecting public health," said Nick Partridge, its chief executive.

Cliff Prior, chief executive of the mental health charity Rethink, said: "The government's target cull appears to have killed off key targets to cut response times for people with severe mental illness when they first become ill."

NHS funding

Meanwhile, the health secretary also announced changes to government plans to pay hospitals fixed fees for treating NHS patients.

Under the scheme, every hospital would be paid the same for performing a heart bypass operation, for example.

At the moment, there are wide variations in the cost of operations across the country.

There have been concerns that the change could cause financial difficulties in some hospitals.

Mr Reid said the scheme would now be more flexible to take account of complex patients or higher costs in the south of England, for example.




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