Plans to scrap the four-hour A&E target have sparked a furious backlash from doctors and nurses, with some claiming it is driven by ministers’ desire to avoid negative publicity about patients facing increasingly long delays.
A&E consultants led a chorus of medical opposition to the move. They pointedly urged NHS leaders and ministers to concentrate on delivering the long-established maximum waiting time for emergency care rather than finding “ways around” it.
Under the target, 95% of people arriving at A&E in England are meant to be treated and then discharged, admitted or transferred within four hours. But performance against the target plunged to a new record low of just 68.6% last month in hospital-based A&E units as a result of staffing problems, the decade-long squeeze on the NHS budget and the dramatic growth in the number of patients seeking care.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), which represents A&E doctors, was responding to Wednesday’s apparent confirmation by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, that the target is set to be axed because it is no longer deemed to be “clinically appropriate”.
“So far we’ve seen nothing to indicate that a viable replacement for the four-hour target exists and believe that testing [of alternatives to the target] should soon draw to a close,” said Dr Katherine Henderson, the President of the RCEM. “Rather than focus on ways around the target, we need to get back to the business of delivering on it.”
The Emergency Care Association, to which 8,000 A&E nurses belong, said ministers should exercise “extreme caution” in decisions about the target because “it could cause significant detriment to patient safety within our emergency departments if the four-hour target was abolished”. There are fears that patients thought to have only minor ailments could come to harm by having to wait a lot longer than four hours because they also have a more serious condition.
Source: The Guardian, 15 January 2020