'The reduction in targets does not mean data collection will be weakened. For example, health inequalities cannot be monitored without understanding smoking cessation, obesity and infant mortality'

National targets are on the retreat. The announcement by chief secretary to the Treasury Andy Burnham that the 110 so-called public service agreement targets across Whitehall are to be slashed to 30 means trusts will, finally, be able to largely determine their own outcome-based goals (see 'New PSAs will boost local freedoms').

The national targets are likely to focus on issues such as health inequalities, patient safety, patient experience and a trust's financial health, as well as the most unassailable target in Whitehall - life expectancy.

But the reduction in targets does not mean data collection will be weakened. For example, health inequalities cannot be monitored without understanding smoking cessation, obesity and infant mortality; while heart disease, stroke and cancer data will reveal progress on life expectancy.

Indeed, the simplification of targets is likely to see a renewed push for using data to drive local policy. Mr Burnham wants greater use of 'real-time data' - famously used in the 1990s by New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to drive progress in crime prevention - not the gathering of figures as a historical, reflective exercise.

So the reduction in targets is likely to lead to greater accountability, not less, as citizens and politicians alike are able to cut through the thicket of extraneous numbers and focus on the health data that really matters.