Hospitals failing to meet wait time targets

MOST hospitals in England are failing to meet government waiting time targets for outpatient appointments and emergency assessment, according to Labour Party research.

The first national study on the impact of the Patient's Charter also shows that only a third of hospitals are meeting the recommended standard on re-arranging cancelled operations.

Although the Department of Health promised two years ago to collect information about implementing charter targets, one in three health authorities surveyed was unable to give full responses about the performance of local hospitals.

Some 104 of the 177 English district health authorities replied to the Labour survey, which focused on four specific charter standards.

Only 28 authorities said their hospitals were meeting the standard on casualty performance - being able to assess all accident and emergency patients' needs on arrival.

In five regions, none of the districts replying to the questionnaire were meeting this target.

Hospital performance was even worse for keeping outpatients waiting for their appointments.

Only 9 per cent were able to maintain the standard that all out- patients must be seen within 30 minutes of their appointment time.

On postponed surgery, the charter states that hospitals should admit patients within a month of a second cancelled operation, and 64 per cent of the authorities surveyed kept to the standard.

Hospitals performed best on the target to allocate a named nurse or midwife for the duration of an in-patient's stay, responsible for their care, with 75 health authorities satisfied the standard was being met.

The survey was published the day after the Department of Health signalled plans for league tables next year enabling patients to compare hospital performance. David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said the figures showed the charter was threatening to flop.

'The idea of producing league tables when hospitals are coping with other more urgent priorities, and the department is doing so little to collect the information, suggests confusion at the highest level,' he said.

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