Page last updated at 12:04 GMT, Tuesday, 24 June 2008 13:04 UK

Tories promise NHS targets revamp

surgeons conducting operation
NHS targets have tended to focus on things such as surgery waits

Focusing on survival rates instead of waiting times would save thousands of lives, Conservative leader David Cameron says.

He said his party would scrap the government's "top-down" approach to NHS targets and instead focus on major diseases such as cancer and stroke.

Traditionally ministers have relied on process targets, such as waiting times, to drive health service improvement.

But ministers said their targets had helped to transform the health service.

CONSERVATIVE TARGETS
Five-year survival rates for cancer in excess of EU averages by 2015
Premature mortality from stroke and heart disease below EU averages by 2015
Premature mortality from lung disease below EU averages by 2020
Year-on-year improvement in patient-reported outcomes for patients living with long-term conditions
Year-on-year improvement in patients' satisfaction with their access to, and experiences of, healthcare
Year-on-year reduction in the number of adverse events

In a speech to the Royal College of Surgeons, the Tory leader said his party would focus on "what really matters to people".

He said the Tories would look to improve five-year cancer survival in excess of the EU average by 2015.

And he added premature death from stroke and heart disease would be brought below the EU average by 2015 and for lung disease by 2020.

Mr Cameron said this would be underpinned by providing data on the outcomes to patients so they could compare hospitals.

And he added achieving average European standards in a host of disease areas could save 38,000 lives, while performing at the highest levels could save 100,000 lives.

The Tory leader also attacked Labour's use of targets, saying they had worsened productivity, wasted money and distorted clinical priorities at a time when more and more money had been pumped into the health service.

Many of the targets have focused on waiting times for things such as A&E and elective surgery.

But Mr Cameron said: "We still have some of the worst health outcomes in the whole of Europe.

"Right now, England's near the bottom of the table when it comes to five-year cancer survival rates.

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"And it's awful that you're more likely to die from a stroke in England than you are in any other country in western Europe.

"So we've got a situation where we pump the same money into our health system as other countries, but on the thing that actually matters - a patient's health and the results of their actual treatment - we're doing worse."

Moving away

However, the Tory policy comes as the government has already started moving away from waiting targets.

To be fair to the NHS, it has already recognised that it needs to move on from an exclusive focus on centrally imposed targets
Niall Dickson, of the King's Fund

The 18-week hospital treatment target for the end of the year is the last of its kind.

And from next year the government is looking to measure patient outcomes, starting with analysing how well people recover from a host of elective operations such as hip replacements.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the King's Fund, said: "The Conservatives are right that what matters to patients is whether their quality of life has improved following surgery or any other procedure rather than whether top-down targets have been met."

But he added: "To be fair to the NHS, it has already recognised that it needs to move on from an exclusive focus on centrally imposed targets towards measuring health outcomes."

Nigel Edwards, policy director of the NHS Confederation which represents 95% of NHS organisations, said: "The NHS Confederation has been arguing for a big shift towards measures based on patient satisfaction and quality of outcomes for some time and this document contains a number of very sensible policies to take the NHS forward."

Health minister Ben Bradshaw said: "The Tories plans would take us back to the bad old days of people waiting two years or more for an operation and languishing on trolleys in A&E.

"If you talk to both staff and people who use the NHS, having some core basic standards of service have been vital in driving up performance and outcomes."

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