The Department of Health has confirmed that there will be no reintroduction of national performance management for the 18 week referral to treatment target, after prime minister David Cameron pledged to retain the limit.

In a speech this afternoon at University College Hospital, London, Mr Cameron sought to calm fears that waiting times would rise as a result of his government’s NHS reforms.

Mr Cameron said: “We’re not going to leave anything to chance, especially as our changes are working their way through the system. So we’re keeping the 18 week limit. That’s in the NHS contract and constitution. And it’s staying.”

The DH told HSJ there would be no revision to the NHS Operating Framework or the NHS Constitution, and no reintroduction of national performance management of the target.

The framework currently dictates that hospitals are “expected to offer maximum waiting times” of 18 weeks for 95 per cent of inpatients.

The NHS Constitution gives patients the right to start “consultant-led treatment within a maximum of 18 weeks from referral for non-urgent conditions”.

The target is managed locally, with commissioners responsible for ensuring that “performance does not deteriorate and where possible improves”.

Commissioners were also recommended to use the median waiting time as an additional measure to monitor hospitals.

National performance management of waiting times was abolished in June 2010, shortly after Andrew Lansley took over as health secretary, in a revision to the operating framework.

The revision made it clear that commissioners should drive improvements to performance through their contracts with providers.