There are strong arguments for and against setting target waiting times for NHS Scotland. Critics say that effectiveness should be measured by outcomes, not by the ability to adhere to an arbitrary schedule decreed by a committee, while those in favour of targets say that this is the only fair way to measure efficiency.
But while it is tempting to apply the outcomes argument in response to the latest waiting times figures we report on today, with one in five patients waiting longer than the maximum period for treatment, this time there is deeper cause for concern, because the figures represent the poorest performance since targets were first set six years ago.
As usually happens, the Scottish Government has responded by stressing its commitment to improving the health service, and highlighting initiatives that have been embarked upon to improve performance.
“We expect this improvement to be reflected when statistics for the period between October and December 2017 are published in February, with further improvement still by the spring,” says health secretary Shona Robison.
It’s a bold statement, because hitting a new low does not suggest that performance figures are about to turn the corner.
The minister needs to be right. At such a low base, surely the only way is up. Anything other than marked improvement will be a damning verdict on Scottish Government strategy.