Scotland politics

Ministers accused of 'secretly dropping' A&E waiting target

The Scottish government has been accused of secretly dropping a target to treat 98% of people within four hours at A&E departments.

Opposition parties said ministers had "moved the goalposts" and had reduced the target to 95%.

The government insisted the 98% target had become a "standard" and the 95% figure was a "stepped target" to help boards meet the standard.

The row came as MSPs clashed over NHS waiting times at Holyrood.

The most recent waiting figures showed that in October 94.4% of patients were treated within four hours of attending A&E, the figure for November stood at 93.5% and for December it fell further to 90.3%.

Last week, Health Secretary Alex Neil said he wanted to see 100% of patients being given the right to be "treated quickly".

Labour brought forward its NHS debate at parliament following a report by public spending watchdog Audit Scotland which said the management and scrutiny of the waiting time system "had not been good enough".

The investigation came after NHS Lothian was found to be manipulating waiting time codes in 2011, although ministers said the practice was not widespread and that concerns raised in the Audit Scotland report were "historical".

Reacting to the new target, Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie, said: "As the number of Scots waiting more than 12 hours in A&E rockets, we discover that the SNP has secretly moved the goalposts and reduced the target.

"I welcome a belated recognition that the four-hour target hadn't been met across Scotland for three years.

"But for the SNP to sneak the announcement out, with no mention of it and no public statement, shows that, at the end of the day, the SNP has learnt nothing.

"It's still all about spin and style but not about patient care or the reality on the ground."

'Sustainable improvement'

The Conservatives' Jackson Carlaw, added: "It's incredible that the Scottish government's response to this crisis is to bring in a reduced target through the back door.

"This is the SNP admitting it has failed on A&E waiting times.

"Instead of lowering standards and expectations, the Scottish government should be doing the opposite."

A Scottish government spokesman said ministers were "prioritising improvement" in four-hour A&E performance and a new "heat target" of 95% would help to support "sustainable all-year-round delivery".

He added: "We expect the first milestone of 95% performance to be delivered in the year ending September 2014.

"This should be seen as a minimum and NHS Boards should pursue further sustainable improvement towards the 98% four-hour A&E standard."

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