Health Secretary Signals Plans To Scale Back NHS Targets

“No-one is suggesting we don’t have any targets,” Steve Barclay said.
Ambulances queue outside the A&E department of the Bath Royal United Hospital.
Ambulances queue outside the A&E department of the Bath Royal United Hospital.
Matt Cardy via Getty Images

The health secretary has signalled plans to scale back the number of NHS targets.

Steve Barclay suggested that NHS officials were better able to tailor priorities at a local level.

It comes after he wrote in the Mail on Sunday that the government would be “ruthless in removing barriers” that “get in the way” of what matters to patients.

The newspaper splashed the comments on their front page with the headline: “BONFIRE OF THE NHS PEN PUSHERS”.

Appearing on Sky News, Barclay said: “There is a place for targets but if everything is a priority, nothing’s a priority.”

He said that at a local level officials are “better able to tailor the priorities for their local needs”.

“No-one is suggesting we don’t have any targets,” he said.

He also signalled that A&E waiting-times targets, which offer gloomy news for patients amid lengthy waits, would not be scrapped.

He called the targets “very useful”.

The MoS claimed Barclay is planning major reforms to slash the number of “bureaucrats” and cut hundreds of targets so doctors and nurses can focus more on patients.

The initiative comes after he and chancellor Jeremy Hunt launched an NHS review which is expected to recommend scrapping vast numbers of benchmarks that hospitals are expected to meet.

Last week Hunt announced that he had commissioned former Labour health secretary Patricia Hewitt to lead a review into NHS efficiency.

She is expected to recommend cutting national targets in favour of streamlining the service so that the extra £3.3 billion a year announced for the NHS in last week’s autumn statement is spent directly on patients, according to the newspaper.

In a separate interview, on BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Barclay said delays in healthcare and A&E waiting lists were “predominantly” down to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Of course, there were challenges going into the pandemic. That’s why we’re targeting through the long-term plan significant additional investment into healthcare,” he said.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting tweeted: “Steve Barclay back to the discredited Conservative script claiming that Conservative NHS backlogs are Covid backlogs.

“But we went INTO the pandemic with NHS waiting lists ALREADY at a RECORD 4.5 MILLION.

“The longer the Conservatives are in power the longer patients will wait.”


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