Immediately following my appointment, I established the Special Delivery Unit (SDU) as set out in the Programme for Government. The aim of the SDU is to unblock access to acute services by improving the flow of patients through the system. As set out in Future Health, a key goal is to deliver faster more equitable access to hospital services. The implementation of the SDU Performance Improvement Programme in Scheduled Care is a key driver of reducing waiting times for scheduled (elective) care in hospitals.
The SDU Scheduled Care Team focused initially on waiting times for in-patient and daycase elective surgery. For 2012, a target was set that no adult should wait longer than 9 months for inpatient or daycase treatment. By the end of December 2012, the number of adults having to wait more than 9 months for inpatient and day case surgery nationally had fallen to 86. This was down from 3,706 in December 2011, representing a 98% decrease. I am determined that the progress made in 2012 be maintained and improved upon. For 2013, the target is that no adult should be waiting longer than 8 months for inpatient or daycase treatment. It is important to recognise that the progress made in 2012 does not mean the problem is solved, and 2013 will of course be extremely challenging. For example, winter pressures in Emergency Departments have impacted on scheduled care waiting times. However, in the coming months, as winter pressures ease, the SDU will work towards re-balancing scheduled care to maintain the improvements seen in 2012 and to achieve the new 2013 target. Also in 2013, the SDU will focus on improving access to outpatient services and a maximum waiting time target has now been set of 12 months for a first time outpatient appointment..
In July 2011 I announced changes to the remit of the NTPF, namely that its role would be changed to support the mission of the SDU. The NTPF is now fully aligned with the SDU and is targeting waiting lists strategically and assisting in the performance management of hospitals to reduce waiting times for patients. The NTPF capability is a core part of the SDU's performance improvement role in holding public hospitals to account. The NTPF future role is under consideration in the context of the structural reforms set out in Future Health–A Strategic Framework for Reform of the Health Service 2012 –2015.