Tories urge NHS target probe amid ‘tick-box’ fears

The Scottish Conservatives have called for the abolition of some NHS Scotland targets as they warned that such measures were creating a 'tick-box' culture. Picture: Greg Macvean
The Scottish Conservatives have called for the abolition of some NHS Scotland targets as they warned that such measures were creating a 'tick-box' culture. Picture: Greg Macvean
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CALLS have been made for a probe into targets within Scotland’s NHS due to fears that the limits were skewing clinical priorities and harming the health service.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the targets were creating a “tick-box culture” within the NHS, and some should be abolished completely.

Her comments came after medical and nursing leaders from The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties in Scotland and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Scotland issued an unprecedented call for an end to the “unsustainable culture” created by NHS targets in areas such as accident and emergency waiting times.

Ms Davidson said: “Doctors and nurses are telling us that the NHS is spending too much time worrying about politicians, and not enough time focusing on patients.

“Political targets have been successful in driving up performance and boosting accountability, but it’s now clear that some are responsible for skewing clinical priorities and heaping pressure on medical staff.

“When nearly 60 per cent of senior doctors in hospital say that the managerial agenda in NHS Scotland is making it ‘very difficult’ for them to do their job, you have to act.”

Performance measures are important to NHS management, she said, but clinical priorities need to be at the heart of all decision making.

Ms Davidson said: “We need a full review of which targets help more people survive and get better, and which simply micro-manage clinicians’ time and pull them away from the treatment their patients need. Any target that doesn’t help should be binned.

“Then we would have an NHS which improves the health of the nation rather than simply servicing a tick-box culture.”

A review of targets would be welcomed by doctors, said Dr Nikki Thompson, Chair of BMA Scotland’s Consultants Committee.

The body released a summary of a survey of hospital consultants in June, where more than half of the respondents said the focus on bureaucracy was making it difficult for them to do their job.

Dr Thompson said: “The clinical needs of patients should always be the driving force behind patient care.

“BMA Scotland has previously made clear that we would support a review of NHS targets to ensure that those patients with the greatest clinical need are always given priority, so we welcome today’s renewed call for this to take place.”

Despite the criticism, Health Secretary Shona Robison said there will always be a role for targets within the NHS in Scotland.

She said: “They help ensure patients get timely treatment and have driven substantial improvements under this Government to what are historically low waiting times. On that basis it is no surprise that patient satisfaction in our NHS increased by over 20 per cent since 2005.

“But the number of targets in our NHS has reduced dramatically over the last decade.

“We now have 20 Local Delivery Standards compared to over 200 under the previous Performance Assessment Framework from 2005.

“NHS Scotland has a strong and professional management cohort, providing the leadership to transform services for the benefit of patients. It is also more efficient than ever before, with the number of management posts reduced by 29.3 per cent over the past five years.”