Flagship health targets set by Labour have been dumped by the new government to cut management costs by £220 million this year, as part of a revision of the NHS’ current operating framework.

Targets for access to a GP within 48 hours and top-down performance management of the 18 weeks to referral target have been dropped from the framework and the maximum four-hour wait in accident and emergency threshold has been cut from 98% to 95%, as part of a wider drive to boost efficiency savings and place the NHS in better stead for dealing with rising demand.

Management costs in the health service currently stand at around £1.85 billion, following an increase of over £220 million in 2009/10 alone, which the new government said it is now seeking to reverse. In the longer term, the plan is to cut management costs by £350 million in 2011/12, to secure an overall cut of £850 million by 2013/14.

“I want to free the NHS from bureaucracy and targets that have no clinical justification and move to an NHS which measures its performance on patient outcomes. Doctors will be free to focus on the outcomes that matter – providing quality patient care,” said health secretary Andrew Lansley, explaining the decision.

The British Medical Association has welcomed the move. “Waiting time targets have improved the NHS in many respects, but they have also resulted in pressure on staff to make inappropriate decisions,” said Keith Brent, deputy chairman of its Consultants Committee. “Patients must always be treated as individuals and we welcome this commitment to allow doctors the freedom to do what is clinically appropriate,” he added.

In other changes to the operating framework, dementia has been given a much higher priority, with a stronger emphasis on the NHS to implement the National Dementia Strategy and publish information on how they are doing this to help improve local services.