Headlines: June 14th, 2001

The Government’s decision to drop waiting list targets in the NHS has been welcomed by health professionals. Health Secretary Alan Milburn made the announcement in a speech to the British Association of Medical Managers in Liverpool.He said the pressure to reduce waiting would not go away. The focus instead will turn to waiting times, which needed to be reduced, especially for those patients with serious conditions. The new target is for the maximum waiting times for a hospital operation to fall from 18 months today to 15 months by Spring next year, then to 12 months and by 2005 to be down to just 6 months.

Mr Milburn said that the same focus would bring waiting times down for outpatient and for ambulance services.

Waiting lists have long been criticised by people inside the NHS as involving too much time and energy on projects which don’t lead to the treatment of any extra patients. These could include regular writing to waiting patients to check whether their name could not for any reason be removed from a list.

Dr Ian Bogle, chairman of the BMA, said that the change amounted to Government recognition that the NHS was currently chasing targets it had not the capacity to deliver. He is anticipating that the new resources and staff coming on stream will, as they come on stream, lead to achievement of phased targets.