The new government is considering scrapping controversial waiting times targets this year, HSJ understands.

An updated NHS operating framework for 2010-11 is expected to be published in the next two or three weeks, senior NHS sources said.

Department of Health officials have been asked to advise on whether the four-hour accident and emergency waiting time target and 18-week referral to treatment target should be dropped, HSJ was told. The A&E target is thought to be most likely to go.

They would be removed from the “vital signs” standards NHS organisations are expected to meet. Other targets are expected to stay during this year, the sources said. The operating framework is usually published in November or December for the following financial year.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley has previously vowed to scrap “politically motivated targets” but it was not mentioned in the full coalition agreement, published today.

The operating framework is also expected to expand on some of the NHS policies in the coalition programme, the sources said.

An immediate removal of the targets at a time of investment cuts will prompt concern that waiting times will grow. But the decision would be hugely popular with many clinicians and their representatives, who have called for them to be scrapped.