Andrew Lansley, the new health secretary, could be about to make his first big mistake.
In opposition, he sided with professional hatred of Labour’s myriad targets in the NHS, and now – although he hasn’t yet quite said it in words of one syllable – he appears set to scrap the lot, including the 18-week wait: the promise that no-one need wait more than 18 weeks from seeing their GP to their hospital treatment starting.
Yesterday he quoted approvingly from one of the many inquiries that have already been held into the scandal at Mid-Staffordshire hospital, which said the fear of front-line staff that they would lose their jobs if the waiting time targets were not met contributed to the hospital’s appalling standards of care.
Waiting time targets were also in part blamed for the huge outbreak of hospital acquired infections at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells.
But two exceedingly bad cases do not invalidate the waiting time goal. More than 200 other NHS trusts have got waiting times down, managed their finances more or less successfully, and not subjected patients to appalling standards of care. In other words they have managed apparently conflicting objectives successfully, as virtually every business has to do.