This morning on Radio 4’s Today programme, Clare Marx, the new President of the Royal College of Surgeons has argued for a review of the NHS 18 week GP referral to treatment target. She called the target a blunt instrument.


I didn’t think I would ever argue this, but I like it because it is a blunt instrument.


The 18 week target has been round a long time, since the government before last. People know what it is and what it means. Is it perfect? No it isn’t and Clare Marx is absolutely right in saying that for many complaints it is too long.


But I look at it the other way. I saw this as a line in the sand that stopped waiting lists growing forever. It is a minimum standard that has to be achieved. It is fine to say that some complaints can wait, but in reality I know cases where the 18 week target was breached and then the patient has found out that the complaint has become in operable because it was seen as minor without proper investigation and diagnosis.


Yes we need to reduce waiting time for many treatments and we should do this. But the 18 week target is so useful for me because it is blunt, people know about it, it has been around a long time and it creates a back stop. I think we remove it at our peril.


Mike Bourne


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