By politics.co.uk staff
NHS hospitals which let patients slip through the 18-week waiting time net are to be tackled by new measures to be unveiled later.
The Department of Health (DoH) is concerned that around 250,000 NHS patients who did not receive treatment within 18 weeks are ignored by target-driven NHS managers.
New measures, to be announced later, are set to reduce the number of patients on what Andrew Lansley has called "hidden waiting lists".
"If you reach 18 weeks and you haven't been treated, from the hospital's point of view you fall out completely from the process of measuring," the health secretary said.
"There is no incentive for the hospitals to do that, so I'm going to bring that back into performance management.
Mr Lansley said revised rules would force patients' interests to be included in contractual arrangements with hospitals.
At present hospitals are encouraged to ensure 90% of their patients receive treatment within 18 weeks.
Those which fail to meet their targets would lose 0.5% of their 'elective contract value' for every percentile they fall short.
Labour has attacked Mr Lansley's relaxation of the waiting time target, citing a 48% increase in the number of patients who have had to wait longer than 18 weeks since he took over at the DoH.
"It's because of Andrew Lansley's failure to get a grip on waiting times that he's being forced to bring out these new rules today," shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said.
"He would do better instead to focus on bringing waiting times back down to the historic low that he inherited from Labour."
Mr Burnham warned that the situation would deteriorate further if Mr Lansley allows the private sector to take on an unlimited amount of NHS work.
"This will take us straight back to bad old days of the Tory NHS, where patients are forced to choose between waiting longer or paying to go private," he added.