Friday, March 20, 2009

The rot of targets

We’re all familiar in education with the way that targets have completely distorted children’s learning, particularly during the testing years. Children lose all individuality and are converted into a ‘safe level 4’ or ‘borderline’. A marking review of SATs papers for 14 year olds by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) found that 44% of grades awarded in English writing tests were wrong. In reading up to a third and in science one in six.

Confirmation that the rot of targets has infected all public services was confirmed with the Stafford hospital scandal. In the pursuit of foundation status the hospital ignored patient care. One of the main targets they tried to achieve was patients moved out of Accident and Emergency within four hours. Patients were transported to a ghost ward, purely to massage the figures. It’s estimated that hundreds of patients died due to lack of care.

What is worrying is that no one within the hospital blew the whistle, it was only when an unofficial patients’ group began to protest that an inquiry was launched. Hospitals used to be checked by Community Health Councils, they were abolished and replaced by completely toothless and ineffectual patients’ groups.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the horrendous crimes of rapist John Worboys led to a wider examination of how the police assess rape. In some London boroughs inexperienced police constables were given the job of reviewing cases. In many instances it wasn’t reported as a crime but as an ‘incident’. More experienced officers were working on massaging the car crime figures. Why? Because that was the most important target.

The furore over the Baby P case highlighted how social workers rather than spending time working with vulnerable children are hunched over a computer inputting data to satisfy the culture of targets.

Targets are a symptom of the way that New Labour want to micro manage everything, as though a minister in Whitehall can pull a lever and everyone will move to order. It doesn’t work.

In the wake of the Stafford scandal the government reassured everyone that most hospitals were putting patient care first. How do they know this? Er… because they are reaching their targets.


Anyone who watched Adam Curtis's documentary series 'The Trap' saw something like this coming. In fact, I think it even mentioned a situation were patients were being greeted as they entered the hospital which meant that they were technically being 'seen' within a certain length of time as far as the statistics showed, when in fact they'd then spend another eight hours in a corridor before being seen by a Doctor.
Hospital lab technicians being continually pestered by A and E staff for results on not very sick patients who need to be put back on the streets. What about results on that really ill person who has been admitted? We'll deal with that later, once we've caught up on waiting times.
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