A&E waiting targets ‘never worked’

Professor Suzanne Mason of the University of Sheffield
Professor Suzanne Mason of the University of Sheffield
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RESEARCHERS in Sheffield have backed up a controversial Government decision to scrap waiting-time targets in hospital casualty units.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley removed four-hour waiting targets in accident and emergency departments in April, sparking outrage from opposition politicians.

But now research from The University of Sheffield suggests the four-hour target never improved patient care.

The news comes after The Star revealed South Yorkshire’s hospitals are dealing with rocketing numbers of patients with minor injuries, who are swamping A&E.

An extensive study led by Sheffield professor Suzanne Mason found the four-hour target was not the best way to manage crowding or deliver high-quality care.

The study examined statistics from 15 hospitals from 2003 to 2006, showing the length of patient stay actually increased and activity in the last 20 minutes of the four-hour window grew every year since the rule was introduced.

Prof Mason said: “We hoped the target would have led to improved processes leading to shorter wait times in emergency departments without diminishing time for physician-patient interactions, but we did not observe this.

“Our results suggest an absolute cut-off may not be the best way to manage crowding.”

She added: “The four-hour rule seems to have shown less benefit for the elderly than for younger patients.”

The research was carried out in Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research, and Barnsley Hospital A&E.