TWO key NHS treatment targets are set to be scrapped leaving millions of patients facing longer hospital waits.
Health bosses want to overhaul the flagship four-hour A&E standard, claiming it has become outdated.
They may also axe the 18-week target for non-urgent operations – such as hip and cataract surgery – under a major review.
Neither key ambition has been met for the past three years.
NHS bosses claim their plans will see life or death cases treated sooner.
But the Royal College of Emergency Medicine accused them of “pure spin” and moving the goalposts at the expense of patients.
Under radical proposals, up to 20 trusts will pilot new A&E targets that will see life-threatening cases prioritised.
Heart attack, sepsis and stroke victims will start treatment within an hour.
People experiencing a mental health crisis will also receive emergency care in under 60 minutes.
But all others casualty arrivals, such as patients with broken bones or minor cuts, will now be seen within an average time – as yet to be decided.
This is pure spin to say [life-threatenign cases] will get faster care
Dr Taj Hassan, Royal College of Emergency Medicine President
There were nearly 25 million A&E attendances last year, with a typical wait of two hours and 36 minutes.
Currently, hospitals must treat, admit or discharge 95 per cent of patients within four hours.
But waits are currently the worst on record.
RCEM president Dr Taj Hassan said: “We already care for life-threatening cases really well – this new standard does not give them any additional benefit.
“This is pure spin to say they will get faster care.
“This is just moving the goalposts. Most patients will wait longer under these proposals.” The new targets will be trialled later this year, with a final decision by the end of 2019.
NHS bosses will then roll them out nationally from April next year.
Rachel Power, from the Patients Association, admitted sick Brits may end up waiting longer.
She said research suggests “patients would be open to more sophisticated targets, including the possibility that people with less urgent needs may have to wait longer if that means the more seriously ill get faster treatment.”
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England who led the targets’ review, said: “The NHS is aiming to improve care for patients and save hundreds of thousands more lives over the coming years, with greater access to mental health support and better treatment for the major killer conditions.”
But Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, said: “It seems like they are giving up. They are not meeting the targets so get rid of them.
“It is very depressing for patients, who will just have to sit around and wait for longer.
“This sounds like bad news for millions who are forced to go to A&E because they cannot get a GP appointment.” Other changes mean the 18-week target for people to start non-urgent care, such as hip operations, could also be replaced.
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Instead the standard could get longer or be replaced by one measuring the average time until treatment starts.
Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said: “There is a risk that getting rid of the 18 week limit on waits for planned procedures could mean the proportion of people going without care for an unacceptably long time drifts upwards.”
The two-week wait to see a cancer specialist could be scrapped. Instead, bosses want patients to receive a diagnosis within 28 days of being referred by their GP.
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