WATCH: NHS England boss reveals A&E waiting target will be scrapped
The NHS is set to scrap its target of seeing 95% of patients within for hours, according to the medical director of NHS England.
Asked by ITV whether the target would apply next year, Sir Bruce Keogh replied: “No.”
The revelation comes as NHS England chief Simon Stevens revealed waiting times for non-urgent operations such as hip and knee replacements will also be extended.
He said the plans were necessary as a “trade off” for improvements in other areas as he laid out his blueprint for the health service for the next two years.
The current target that 92% of patients should be treated within 18 weeks of a referral by their GP has been missed for more than a year.
Mr Stevens said: "We do expect there will be some marginal lengthening of waiting lists but this will still represent a strong, quick waiting times experience compared to 10 years ago, let alone 20."
He added: "What we are saying is that we have a health service that is bigger year on year...
"What we also recognise is that a combination of a growing and ageing population, the number of new treatments that are coming on and the rise in demand being experienced means that we have to make some choices."
He also said the NHS budget for 2017/18 was “fixed” so rather than push for new money “we've set out what we intend to do within the budget that's available".
Elsewhere in the plan GPs will get advice from consultants for hundreds of thousands of patients by phone instead of referring them directly.
Fewer people will be sent to hospital for care while hospitals will be incentivised to advise patients to improve their health, for example by quitting cigarettes.
Prescriptions for travel vaccination, over-the-counter treatments and gluten-free foods, among other things, will be scrapped.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted the changes would include "better cancer treatment, expanding GP access, and transforming mental health care".
Sir Bruce said the new plan “offers hope for the future” and urged health professionals “rally round” to ensure it works.
But Mark Porter, the council chairman of the British Medical Association, blasted the so-called ‘trade-off’ between operation waiting times and other parts of the NHS.
"The NHS is at breaking point from a combination of increasing demand and inadequate resources,” he said.
"Achieving one delivery promise only by missing another is a textbook example of rationing access to care. It should not be happening in today's NHS.
"The NHS, and its expert and professional staff, are working hard under extreme pressure, but fundamentally the failure to meet the access promises is a direct consequence of the Government's decision to allocate less resources to the NHS than other leading European countries."
Shadow Health Secretary John Ashworth said: “Reading between the lines this plan confirms that Theresa May's Government has broken its promise by failing to give the NHS the funding it needs.
"Sadly Jeremy Hunt has no plan whatsoever to help the NHS through the challenge of Brexit and is being enormously complacent about the impact for the NHS.
"The Government need to be much clearer about how they will guarantee there are enough staff in place in the health service to keep patients safe for the years to come."
Meanwhile, Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: “These plans will shape the future of the NHS so must be fit for an ageing population with an emphasis on joined-up funding and support, not just efficiency savings in the NHS.”