Strathclyde Public Health Professor reviews health targets

Professor Sir Harry Burns

A Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Strathclyde has conducted a major review of health and care targets in Scotland.

Professor Sir Harry Burns conducted the independent review, commissioned by the Scottish Government with the support of local government body Cosla, to inform new systems for improving quality of health and social care.

Following publication of Sir Harry’s review, Health Secretary Shona Robison said health and care targets should better reflect the overall quality of care people receive and help drive improvements in public health across the whole population.

The Health Secretary confirmed that current targets, such as for cancer treatment, A&E, and the Treatment Time Guarantee, will remain and be built upon – informed by the principles in Sir Harry’s report. Further work will now be undertaken to determine the best ways to capture and report people’s wider experience of care to ensure that we’re focused on improving public health across the whole population.

Sir Harry, who was Chief Medical Officer for Scotland from 2005-2014, said: “Over the past few years, we have seen some aspects of health care and social care improve as a result of the use of indicators and targets. However, existing measurements often only tell a part of the story.

“If we really want to understand why some parts of our system appear to function better than others, we need to look across the whole journey of care, not just take a snapshot of isolated bits of it. Health is the product of a complex system and we should measure how we manage it appropriately.

“At present, much of our attention is given to how long people wait to get into hospital. If we are to improve health and wellbeing, we need a better understanding of what makes them ill enough to require hospital care in the first place and we also need to measure the outcome of that care.

“This report suggests that the next step on Scotland’s journeys to better health is using data to improve services, not simply judge them on the basis of inadequate information. Scotland has been a leader in using data to improve patient safety. Central to this process has been the involvement of front line staff in design and implementation of important improvements in care.

“I hope the recommendation that we extend this focus on improvement into new areas, involving those who have to deliver care, will produce a step change in the wellbeing of our community.”

Ms Robison said: “Targets and indicators have an important role in giving people clarity on what to expect from health and social care services, and in monitoring performance across the country.

“But they can never be an end in themselves. To be clear, the targets will remain in place, but Sir Harry’s report is absolutely right that we must shift the emphasis to ensure we have a more sophisticated approach which helps drive improvements in health across the population.


“His comprehensive review and findings enable us to start the process of devising new methods to more deeply understand people experience whilst using health and social care services.

“Our ambition must be to not only improve the care of individuals needing treatment, but to utilise the information from improved systems to enhance the health of Scotland as a whole.”