Published: 06/02/2003, Volume II3, No. 5841 Page 8

The NHS is now working to 62 essential targets, which is the minimum needed to ensure the service improves, according to NHS chief executive Nigel Crisp.

Mr Crisp spelt out the number of targets for the service when he gave evidence to the Commons public administration committee last week as part of its inquiry into public service targets.

He said NHS organisations would only be judged against these targets over the next three years, the period for which financial allocations have been announced. The targets were listed in the Department of Health's priorities and planning guidance, published in April.

The targets comprise 44 that relate to individual health and social care organisations and 18 that relate to the NHS as a whole.

The 44 cover targets on access, cancer, coronary heart disease, mental health, older people, vulnerable children, patient experience, reducing inequalities and drug misuse. The 18 national capacity requirements cover physical capacity, workforce and information management and technology.

Mr Crisp told the committee the number had been whittled down following complaints that there were too many targets. All relate to the 12 public service agreement targets set for the DoH by the Treasury. He said of the targets:

'Over the last year we have listened to the concerns about the apparently large number of targets. The 12 targets we have got from government convert into 44 targets for health and social care organisations and 18 for the NHS as a whole. It is the minimum number we believe we need to secure accountability to Parliament.'

Mr Crisp told the committee that some of the service's objectives were standards to be met rather than targets, as was sometimes assumed. He said an example of the approach to reducing targets was the recent diabetes national service framework, which set standards for patient care but only two targets to be met.

Questioned by committee member Kevin Brennan on how many of the 62 targets absolutely had to be met, Mr Crisp said: 'All of them.

We should aim to hit them all.We should be aiming, and committed, to hitting these targets.We may or may not meet all 62, but we should certainly aim to do so.'

Mr Crisp later told committee chair Tony Wright: 'Targets are not everything. Any management lever can be used badly.'

A DoH spokesperson confirmed that although the NHS plan contained a much wider number of targets, NHS organisations would only be judged against the 62 targets.

He said: 'These are what the service will be judged on.Other targets remain in force, but if people miss these targets, That is that.These [62] are the ones we are providing the extra money for. What we want is for people to focus on the 62 and use the extra resources to plough into doing the 62. However, we do not expect them to take money away from other areas.'