Tories would abolish NHS targets and give more power to hospitals

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The Conservatives will today promise a bonfire of up to 700 NHS targets as they outline radical proposals aimed at giving more power to individual hospitals.

The Conservatives will today promise a bonfire of up to 700 NHS targets as they outline radical proposals aimed at giving more power to individual hospitals.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, will pledge to scrap all central government health targets, instead arguing that the power of patient choice will drive up standards.

Hospital star ratings, used to create NHS league tables, will be scrapped and controversial national waiting time targets will be abolished by a Conservative government, he will say.

Mr Lansley will use a major policy speech tomorrow to propose giving all NHS trusts the status of foundation hospitals, and hand them greater power over local pay and borrowing.

A survey of 200 doctors commissioned by the party found 95 per cent agreed that pressure to comply with Whitehall targets "distorts clinical priorities and adversely affects patient care". Eighty-two per cent agreed that red tape prevented them from devoting as much attention to their patients as they would like.

Mr Lansley said: "We want a patient-centred health service. The hundreds of targets means that the service responds to the Department of Health diktats, not patients' needs and choices. Performance management should be the responsibility of NHS trusts themselves and patients' right to choose will be the incentive needed to shape services and promote innovation and efficiency.

"In place of bureaucratic targets, we need to establish that clinical standards, based on evidence and best practice, determine the quality of care the NHS provides."

Estimates suggest that NHS trusts face anything between 200 and 700 targets. The Department of Health has agreed 12 umbrella targets with the Treasury as part of the last three-year spending review, but hundreds more are contained in the NHS Plan.

Mr Lansley said that there were more than 200 targets contained in 2000's NHS Plan and that further targets had been added in Public Service Agreements and National Service Frameworks.

Instead, the Conservatives propose allowing hospitals to set their own targets. All 289 NHS trusts will be allowed to apply for foundation status, and hospitals will become not-for-profit corporations headed by a board of directors.

Senior Conservatives said hospitals would be given the freedom to set their own pay and conditions, and would be given the right to borrow on the open market to give them the freedom to expand.

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has already promised to cut back the number of targets as part of next month's spending review after an analysis by the Treasury showed that the 12 national health targets were multiplied 17 times by the time they reached the front line.

Last year the Commons Public Administration Committee called for a review of government targets after it emerged that 25 people went blind or lost part of their sight because outpatient appointments were delayed to help a hospital meet waiting-time targets.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, condemned the proposals as "a recipe for disaster". He said: "Today's announcement is just corporate rebranding of tired and unpopular Conservative health policies. Their focus on hospitals demonstrates that the Conservatives are obsessed with bricks and mortar rather than making sure that healthcare professionals are able to deliver the right care at the right time and in the right place."

A Labour spokesman said yesterday: "If you look at the Tories' record you can understand why they don't believe in targets. They gave everyone in the 1990s the freedom to wait over two years. "We make no apology for halving the maximum waiting time from 18 months to nine months and we want to go further. Now 19 out of 20 people are seen, diagnosed and treated in accident and emergency within four hours, thanks to tough targets."