NHS England has said it may scrap its four-hour waiting time target in A&E and will test new "rapid care measures" for patients with the most urgent mental and physical health needs.

The plans also aim for people with suspected cancer to receive a definitive diagnosis within 28 days of urgent referral by their GP or a screening service as part of the proposals.

The announcements come as part of NHS England's long-term plan into how the health service will function in the future.

Targets for cancer care waiting times were also revealed. Credit: PA

NHS England will also trial a rapid assessment measure for all patients arriving at A&E, with the intention of providing faster life-saving treatment for those with the most critical conditions and injuries, such as heart attacks, sepsis, stroke and severe asthma attacks.

Under the plans, patients will receive an assessment by a medical professional when they walk through the door of A&E, and cases will then be prioritised according to the level of urgency.

The plan proposes a "new measure of time" in emergency departments to stop doctors from admitting patients who do not need to be in hospital in a bid to meet the four-hour target.

People who arrive at A&E experiencing a mental health crisis will also receive emergency care within one hour.

A raft of new measures are expected to replace the four-hour A&E target. Credit: PA

NHS England said currently one in five admissions from A&E happen in the final 10 minutes before the four-hour deadline, which suggests hospitals are focusing on meeting targets "rather than what is the best approach for each patient".

The existing four-hour target has not been met since July 2015 and some experts say it is unlikely the NHS could ever hit it again.

Figures for January showed that A&E waiting times in England reached their worst level since records began.


Patients waited longer than they should have in January 2019.

Just 84.4% of patients were treated or admitted in four hours, against a 95% target, meaning nearly 330,000 patients waited longer than they should.

The data also showed that 83,519 people in January endured very long waits - often called trolley waits - to be admitted to hospital.

The plan also aims to strengthen rules on reporting prolonged waits for those who need to be admitted to a ward to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) which regulates health and social care in the UK.