Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announces new NHS 'quality standards'

A new set of NHS "quality standards" will improve patient care, the Health Secretary said today as he insisted he was not creating new targets for the health service.

Some 150 clinical areas will eventually have their own set of quality standards, with the first three published today covering dementia, blood clots and stroke.

The standards set out the type of care patients can expect and some timeframes for treatment.

Andrew Lansley, who has scrapped several of Labour's key targets, including the guarantee of a GP appointment within 48 hours, insisted the new standards were not just another set of targets.

Speaking at the launch of the standards, which have been developed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), Mr Lansley said they were not mini-targets as they were "evidence-based" measures identified by the NHS itself.

"These are standards, not diktats. It is not politicians establishing these, I am not picking them out.

"If I started doing that, I would be distorting clinical standards."

The announcement comes as a survey of 120 NHS managers found almost two-thirds believed Mr Lansley was wrong to drop targets.

The poll, from, found many thought axing targets was a step backwards.

The managers included practice managers and clinical directors.

Some 59% said targets should stay, with some telling the site that there could be a return to long waiting lists for patients.

The latest standards from Nice are drawn from various sources, including existing Nice guidelines, and reports from the Royal Colleges, the Department of Health and the National Audit Office.

It will be up to local managers - or possibly GPs in the future - to check if the NHS is meeting them.

If trusts fail to reach the standards, they could face losing contracts to carry out services, such as stroke care, which could be commissioned from other hospitals instead.

It is unclear how data will be collected nationally so patients can assess whether standards are being met.

Dr Tim Kendall, who led development of the dementia standard, said it would help transform the experience of dementia patients but also support carers.

"Some carers suffer far more than they should. People with dementia effectively die while the person caring for them watches them disappear," he said.

The stroke standard sets out how patients can expect to receive a minimum of 45 minutes, five days a week, of therapies to help them improve, such as speech therapy or help with movement.

Dr Tony Rudd, who worked on the stroke quality standard, said patients were not getting full access to therapies.

"Probably nowhere in the country is giving 45 minutes at the moment to all their patients," he said.

He added all hospitals that admit stroke patients have access to 24-hour imaging services but "that does not mean all patients are getting it".

Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants committee, said: "At first look, these may seem like a whole set of new targets, but the big difference is that they are not politically driven.

"There is evidence behind these and that should mean we do not get the perverse incentives we have seen in the past."