News | Published January 16 2020

Hancock hints that four-hour A and E waiting time target could change

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said that the government could put an end to the existing four-hour waiting time target for Accident & Emergency units.

Currently, A&E units have a target of seeing 95 per cent of patients within a four-hour window, but every major unit in England fell short of that goal in November 2019.

Hancock told the BBC that a “clinically appropriate” target "supported by clinicians so we've got clinicians looking at that" was needed, rather than unrealistic ones.

He believes that a rise in the number of people being treated in A&E was behind the missed targets, saying that using the four-hour target as “the top way of measuring what’s going on in hospitals” is a "problem".

Hancock said: “[For example], increasingly people can be treated on the day and be able to go home [without staying overnight]. That is much better for the patient, it’s also better for the NHS and yet the way that that’s being counted…doesn’t work”.

The health secretary added that the government would invest an extra £33.9 billion into the NHS to help resolve the issue.

Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has criticised Hancock's remarks, saying that altering targets “won’t magic away the problems in our overcrowded hospitals".

Ashworth said: "Any review of targets must be transparent and based on watertight clinical evidence, otherwise patients will think Matt Hancock is trying to move the goalposts to avoid scrutiny of the government's record.

"After years of austerity under the Tories, the government's first priority must be to give the NHS the funding and staff it needs to end the waiting time crisis.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also called for action on the issue of rising waiting times during Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons on Wednesday.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said that Corbyn was "right" to highlight the delays people were experiencing in A&E and that such long waits were "unacceptable".

Johnson then pledged that the government "will get those waiting lists down", without discussing any changes to waiting time targets.

Johnson's predecessor Theresa May began a review into A&E waiting time targets in 2018 which is yet to be finalised. An interim report was produced in March 2019 by Professor Steve Powis, NHS England's national medical director, which proposed three new targets for the government to implement.

These consist of switching to the average waiting time as the main measure; recording the length of time patients wait from the point of entry to their initial triage assessment; and recording the timeframe spanning the entry of patients in critical condition into A&E until the completion of their emergency treatment.

Johnson's government has not committed to these proposals to date.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
January 16 2020

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