David Bennett has called for the NHS to investigate the possibility of redefining key access targets to reduce the financial burden they place on providers – where it can be done without compromising safety.

The Monitor chief executive said the health service should consider the scope for extending to other performance targets an approach being piloted by ambulance services. Some trusts have been given longer than normal to decide whether to send an ambulance to “red 2” calls, which respond to non-life threatening emergencies.

Asked by HSJ if there was a case for changing the way performance targets were managed to help trusts cope with the current financial squeeze, Mr Bennett said: “On access targets, I think the sort of thing we should be doing is the sort of thing we’ve been trialling with the ambulance services on red 2. Where really there is a clinical argument for saying this is not working as well as it could, and yet, if you [improve the target] it makes it easier within a given resource to hit the clinically better targets.”

Asked if he thought there was scope for this approach to be applied to other access targets, he said: “I think we need to look at it.”

He added: “With the red 2 thing it wasn’t as simple as saying ‘we don’t need a red 2 target’. But the conclusion was it could be defined in a way that was just as clinically safe but imposed less of a resource burden on the trust. It’s that sort of thing we need to look at. Is there a way of maintaining clinical safety, having appropriate targets, but [without imposing] an unnecessary burden on the providers?”

He said any work on re-examining performance targets in this way would probably be the responsibility of NHS England and the Department of Health.