Atlantis Medical News

Are NHS targets still relevant?

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26 FEB 2019

There have been calls for NHS targets to be removed with the Chairman of the NHS, Lord Prior, saying that these targets have had their day. Of course, there will be many people saying the fact that A&E departments recorded the worst figures since records began as a factor in this announcement shouldn’t be overlooked.

Lord Prior believes that the quest for targets has managed to damage the level of patient care and has encouraged the NHS to “game” the system so they appear to be performing well as opposed to making improvements that would provide patients with better services.

Lord Prior said; “We have had 15 years of this top-down target-driven culture that has driven the NHS. The degree of pressure to hit targets is something I have never encountered in the private sector, the unnuanced level of these targets. Of course, the gaming that has developed around these targets and the bad behaviour…go to any A&E department and everyone measures the time…you get to 3 hours 55 minutes and all hell hits. Everyone runs around like headless chickens to get them out or get them through or discharge them before the four hours.”

Targets are useful but they can cause problems

With respect to the future and purpose of targets, Lord Prior said; “Targets have had their day I think. They have encouraged this top-down, hierarchical control in the NHS which has been very damaging for the culture, and very bad for getting clinicians involved and engaged.”

There is a need for organisations to have targets to aim for

While there are valid concerns about targets in an organisation like the NHS, often leading to patients receiving a poorer standard of service as opposed to the help they need, all organisations need to have targets and benchmarks. There is scope for the NHS to improve, but if the current targets and benchmarks are not suitable, there needs to be something else which can provide a reference as to how the organisation is performing.

Given the demand for NHS services and departments, there is always going to be pressure on professionals. Learning how to best manage this pressure while supporting staff members is likely to be of benefit to all concerned.

At Atlantic Medical, we understand the pressure NHS departments and nurses face every day. There is no denying that there are times when the focus to meet targets takes departments and healthcare professionals away from other tasks that would help to provide a better standard of service to tenants.

There are obviously areas where striving to meet targets has improved the service of care provided to patients but it would be wrong to say that this has been the case with every aspect of healthcare work. It appears as though people are now willing to have a proper debate as to the future of the NHS and whether targets are helpful. This will hopefully create a working environment where improvement is encouraged but where patient care is still put first.


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