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NHS targets

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Since Labour came to power, there has been an explosion of targets for the health service, most of which stemmed from the government’s blueprint The NHS Plan, published in 2000.

One of the major targets was for patients to be seen within four hours of arriving at A&E by 2004. A precise ‘re-definition’ of this had to be agreed later, which said that there were some clinical exceptions where people may need to stay longer than four hours for medical or safety reasons.

The other new targets set for the NHS from The NHS Plan included:
- Abolishing waiting lists and replacing them with booking systems for patients
- Halving the maximum waiting time for routine outpatient appointments from more than six months to three months, and reducing the average time to five weeks
- Reducing the maximum wait for inpatient treatment from 18 months to six by 2005, and the average time from three months to seven weeks.

Other targets included:
- Patients would get an appointment with a GP within 48 hours by 2005
- Personal Medical Service practices – alternative ways of providing a general practice service, some of which could be nurse-led – would involve almost one-third of GPs by 2002 and ultimately the majority of doctors
- 500 one-stop primary care centres would be set up by 2004, bringing together GPs and community nurses under one roof with many other professionals including dentists and social care staff.

Staffing targets were also set such as the aim of recruiting an extra 20,000 nurses by 2005 – a target that was met early. There was also a promise of an extra 2,000 GPs, and 7,500 consultants by 2005.

The Department of Health later published its public service agreement, which set out to the Treasury what the DH would provide with its new resources. This set various priorities for the years 2005-2006 to 2007-2008 in England.

These included increasing life expectancy at birth for men to 78.6 years and for women, 82.5 years by 2010; ensuring that by 2008, no one waits longer than 18 weeks from GP referral to hospital treatment; and a maximum waiting time of two months from urgent referral to treatment and of one month from diagnosis to treatment for all cancers.

Setting targets has helped to achieve many of the changes in the NHS the government has sought, but sticking rigidly to targets has created pressure on the service and led to extra spending which has come back to haunt the service with deficits emerging at a number of trusts.

But there is target for that too – the Department of Health expects all trusts to get out of financial deficit by the end of 2006-07.

Updated: September 2006

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