NHS England could ditch the four-hour A&E waiting times target and replace it with a raft of new measures.
Bosses unveiled plans for an overhaul of the target system with trials across the country this year.
These will test waiting times changes for A&E, mental health and cancer operations, and could be introduced in 2020.
Instead of being seen within four hours, A&E patients in England with the most serious conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and sepsis, would receive rapid treatment within an hour, while people with minor conditions could expect to wait longer.
The existing four-hour target has not been met since July 2015 and some experts say it is unlikely the NHS could ever hit it again.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England who led the targets review, said: ‘As we build an NHS that is fit for the future, now is the right time to look again at the old targets which have such a big influence on how care is delivered, to make sure that they take account of the latest treatments and techniques.’
But the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said that, ‘rather than scrapping the four-hour access standard, it should be supported by a series of complementary metrics that help understanding of the causes of long waits and crowding [in A&E]’.
Figures for January showed that A&E waiting times in England were at their worst level since records began.
Just 84.4 per cent of patients were treated or admitted in four hours, against a 95 per cent target, meaning nearly 330,000 patients waited longer than they should.