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NHS Targets

Volume 512: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2010

On Monday 21 June I published a revision to the NHS operating framework in which I removed the central management of three process targets that had no clinical justification. We will carry on focusing on quality and outcomes, getting rid of top-down process targets.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that meeting targets does not necessarily mean improving health care, and that the last Government were far too focused on the process of health care, rather than on improving the patient experience?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was here just a few weeks ago, announcing a public inquiry into the events at Stafford general hospital. Of course, in that hospital the adherence to ticking the box on the four-hour target was one of the things that contributed to the most appalling care of patients. We have to focus on delivering proper care for patients—the right treatment at the right time in the right place—and delivering the best outcomes for them. We will focus on that—on quality—not on top-down process targets.

Is it really true that the coalition Government are going to scrap the right for people to see their GP within 48 hours? If so, will the Secretary of State publicise that, so people know that the right has been reduced? If it is true, is he not just axing public service quality under the pretence of dealing with so-called bureaucracy?

It is astonishing—the Labour Government spent money trying to achieve the GP access target, and the hon. Gentleman might at least have recognised that the latest data, published two or three weeks ago, show that public satisfaction with access to their GPs, and the things that the Labour Government had been paying for, had actually gone down. A consequence of the 48-hour access target was that patients were unable to access their GPs more than 48 hours in advance. Is it not reasonable to expect GPs to be able to manage their own services in order to deliver better patient experience and outcomes across the board? I think we can reasonably expect that.

It has been reported today that historically speaking, as a result of targets, an obstetrician in a hospital could herself have a caesarean section but then have to refuse one to a patient, because of the pressures that targets put on the local NHS trust. Can the Secretary of State give us an assurance that any woman in the NHS who needs a caesarean section will have one, and that no targets will be imposed?

My hon. Friend is referring to World Health Organisation targets, which have not in themselves been applied within the NHS, and it certainly would not be my intention to impose such targets. I agree with the implication of her question, which is that a woman who needs a caesarean section should have access to one. I am also well aware that when a woman does not require a caesarean section we should seek, through a process of discussion and providing information, to avoid that wherever possible. Birth should be considered a normal event, rather than being subject to excessive medicalisation.