Controversy has arisen regarding the NHS target to treat people visiting accident and emergency departments within four hours, and might I add, rightly so.
Whilst comments have been made regarding the fact that having a target in place to treat people efficiently is good in theory, this target is considered to be potentially detrimental to the care afforded to patients. Although it has been acknowledged that, as a result of the target imposed, people are in fact being treated more efficiently and this target has made emergency care a priority for the NHS, we must ask at what cost can this happen?
One positive which can be seen from this target, and others, was highlighted by a Department of Health spokesperson, who stated, "NHS targets are working. They are driving forward the recruitment of more doctors, nurses and other NHS staff and helping deliver the fastest access to healthcare." Does this mean that the problem with understaffing may be resolved?
However, on the other hand a different view is taken, according to The Nuffield Trust, “the way in which health care services are delivered must be transformed if the NHS is to respond to rising demand and constrained budgets” – this begs the question, for the sake of efficiency should we jeopardise the quality of care afforded to patients?
The London School of Economics researchers have said targets “had helped to improve NHS performance in England”, however they did warn that creating certain targets were in fact damaging other services. In particular, the four hour A&E target, which meant that extra staff were brought into Casualty when performance was being measured, meaning operations elsewhere in the hospital had to be cancelled.
The targets regime is going to be a case of swings and roundabouts for a while until they are able to find the perfect balance so as to enable the NHS to offer excellent quality of care as well as speed.
By clinical negligence solicitor and Stephensons' Partner, Louise Griffiths