The head of the national patient access team has moved to distance herself from the government's decision to 'name and shame' seven trusts over their waiting-list performance.
Junior health minister Lord Hunt announced this week that team staff would be sent into the 'red-lighted' trusts after a marked rise in outpatient waiting lists over the past quarter. The seven named trusts were responsible for a quarter of the 42,880 rise in the number of people nationally waiting more than 13 months for an outpatient appointment.
But Sue Jennings, former chief executive of Basildon and Thurrock General Hospitals trust, told HSJ she had nothing to do with the early use of the government's traffic-light scheme, which she 'saw in the press release, the same as you did'.
She also said the team preferred 'to be asked in' and did not want to be seen as a hit squad.'We're usually welcomed - I hope that won't change, ' she said.
Lord Hunt announced that£13m of Budget money would be allocated to trusts with spare capacity for more outpatient work. He said£27m would be targeted on specialties with long waits. The red-light trusts will have their share of the extra money held by the shadow Modernisation Agency and spent 'on the agency's direction'.
The NHS plan says NHS organisations will be 'annually and publicly' classified as red, yellow and green, with red organisations being those that fail to meet a number of core national targets.
David Hunter, professor of health policy and management at Durham University, attacked the 'fast-tracking' of the scheme.
'They seem to be jumping the gun with a system that was supposed to be introduced in April, across the board, ' he said. 'It suggests the whole thing is being made up on the hoof.'
Southend Hospital trust chief executive David Brackenbury said he had 'no problem' with an access team visit, but he was 'not thrilled' with the government's approach.
'I'm less happy about naming and shaming. As an organisation we've been presented by the media as a failing organisation. This is the first target we've missed in nine years.'
Leeds Teaching Hospitals trust chief executive David Johnson said his trust had 'already invited the team to visit' because it was 'struggling' to meet its outpatient target.The trust saw a 4 per cent increase in outpatient numbers and a 10 per cent rise in referrals for new appointments in the three months to June, including an increasing number of referrals from other hospitals. Mr Johnson, in common with other chief executives, learned he was going to be 'named and shamed' this week when the Department of Health issued a press release.
But the NHS Confederation welcomed the decision to 'set up action teams to help NHS organisations with the worst outpatient waiting lists'.
Policy director Nigel Edwards said it showed that ministers had recognised that 'solving these problems involves finding complex solutions, and providing support is more effective than brandishing sticks'.
Lord Hunt has announced that£63m will be spent this winter on intermediate care to reduce pressure on acute beds . There will also be£1m for 'winter planners' to promote joint working between health and social services.
The number of people waiting for inpatient treatment at the end of June fell by 5,000 on the previous month, to 1,048,000.
The number of people waiting more than 12 months was down 160 to 50,700. Just one patient had been waiting more than 18 months.
But the number of people waiting longer than 13 weeks for an outpatient appointment rose by 42,880 to 444,000 over the three months to June.