Setting targets for NHS performance failed to win over the “hearts and minds” of service staff, health secretary Andy Burnham has admitted.

Speaking to the Urban Institute think tank before a meeting with President Obama’s health task force, Andy Burnham said he understood why staff thought the drives signalled a lack of trust on the part of central government.

But he also insisted that Labour had been right to introduce NHS targets when it first came to power.

“Targets drove the system hard and were the right thing to do,” he said.

“Looking back now, I can see that the emphasis began to imply a lack of trust in staff at the front line that became disempowering.”

Labour has been criticised for introducing what some view as too many targets, with patients groups suggesting the practice has caused other issues to be ignored.

Mr Burnham said many of the targets would be scrapped over the coming months, but added that the 18-week referral to treatment target would remain in place, as would the aim to see all patients entering accident and emergency within four hours.