Scotland

Doctors' union calls for 'fundamental shift' over NHS targets

Hospital ward Image copyright PA

A doctors' union has called for a "fundamental shift" away from an "over-reliance" on targets in the NHS.

Peter Bennie, chairman of the British Medical Association's Scottish Council, said there was too much focus on "crude" measurements.

He said targets created a culture of blame, and that the focus should be on delivering the best care for patients.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said targets had a role to play - but should not be an end in themselves.

In a Christmas message, Mr Bennie said the expectations placed on doctors and healthcare workers to meet targets were "simply not sustainable".

'Crude measures'

He said: "Multiple targets, an ageing population and the funding gap are creating a vicious circle, stretching the system and the workforce beyond their means.

"The current culture of using crude measures, often taken in isolation, to judge the complexities of the whole healthcare system, and to apportion blame, must end."

He said there was a need to set and monitor standards for patient care - but that there was currently "an over-reliance on targets".

"In our view, we need a fundamental shift to a more mature way of dealing with the data we have on our health service, which places more emphasis on doing the right things for patients, and trusting doctors and healthcare staff to use their skills and judgment.

"We must focus more on whether we have delivered the best possible care for the people who rely on our health service, not simply how long they wait to get treated."

'Balanced approach'

Mr Bennie said the BMA would work with those who wanted to build on the "direction of travel" set out in a review of NHS targets by former chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns.

Ms Robison said there needed to be a balanced approach.

She said: "Targets and indicators form part of this balanced approach and have an important role in giving people clarity on what to expect from health and social care services, and in monitoring performance across the country.

"But they can never be an end in themselves.

"Our ambition must be to not only improve the care of individuals needing treatment, but to utilise the information from improved systems to enhance the health of Scotland as a whole."

Figures published on Wednesday suggested that waiting times in Scotland's accident and emergency units had reached record levels in the week ending 17 December amid a surge in demand.

However, earlier this month research by the BBC indicated that fewer patients in Scotland were waiting longer than four hours in A&E than they did in 2012/3.

This was in contrast to England, where the number had more than doubled over the same period.