NHS chief backs call for tougher, faster A&E waiting-time standards

A “tougher and faster” set of waiting-time standards is needed for some patients attending accident and emergency departments, the NHS England chief executive has said.

The four-hour A&E waiting-time target was not well understood, Simon Stevens said on Monday as he discussed the the NHS’s £20bn 10-year plan, which will launch on Monday, pledging to transform the health service.

Stevens told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “On A&E services, we think we actually need a tougher, faster set of standards for some major conditions than we’ve got at the moment.

“The four-hour target is not terribly well understood – people think it’s four hours to start treatment. It’s actually four hours to have been assessed, to have your tests done and for the treatment to have been completed, and, if it hasn’t been, for you to be admitted to a hospital in-patient bed.

“The problem with that is it doesn’t distinguish between turning up at A&E with a sprained finger versus turning up with a heart attack.”

He said senior doctors were advising that the standards should focus particularly on major conditions, such as sepsis, heart attacks and strokes.

“At the other end of the spectrum, there are conditions for which previously you would have had to be admitted and stay overnight in hospital, but you can now actually have your care sorted out on the same day.

“The top doctors in the NHS are looking at what are the most appropriate clinical standards to improve outcomes in emergency care. They will make their recommendations and, on the back of that, we will meet them,” he said.

Details of how the NHS intends to dramatically reduce the number of people dying from conditions with high mortality rates, such as cancer, heart attacks and strokes, will be set out in the plan.

It will explain how the NHS will spend the extra funding Theresa May announced last year, marking its 70th birthday, which will increase the budget in England from £115bn to £135bn by 2023-24.

Experts have said the plan must avoid presenting an undeliverable wishlist that makes too many promises and sets up the NHS to fail.


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