Did 'Targets and Terror' Reduce Waiting times in England for Hospital Care?
Waiting times have been a central concern in the English NHS, where care is provided free at the point of delivery and is rationed by waiting time. Pro-market reforms introduced in the NHS in the 1990s were not accompanied by large drops in waiting times. As a result, the English government in 2000 adopted the use of an aggressive policy of targets coupled with publication of waiting times data at hospital level and strong sanctions for poor performing hospital managers. This regime has been dubbed ‘targets and terror’. We estimate the effect of the English target regime for waiting times for hospital care after 2001 by a comparative analysis with Scotland, a neighbouring country with the same healthcare system that did not adopt the target regime. We estimate difference-in-differences models of the proportion of people on the waiting list who waited over 6, 9 and 12 months. Comparisons between England and Scotland are sensitive to whether published or unpublished data are used but, regardless of the data source, the ‘targets and terror’ regime in England lowered the proportion of people waiting for elective treatment relative to Scotland.
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