New NHS services have failed to take the pressure off hospitals, MPs have warned.
Walk-in centres, designed to offer an alternative to accident and emergency departments, had simply attracted new patients, leaving hospitals as busy as ever.
The warning was issued in a report from the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, which includes MPs SiUn Simon (Lab Erdington) and Brian Jenkins (Lab Tamworth). The department has made reducing waiting times in A&E departments a priority.
By December 2004, no patient was supposed to spend longer than four hours in A&E before being discharged or admitted to hospital, unless clinically appropriate.
However, the committee warned that a number of hospital trusts "still have some way to go".
In a bid to reduce waiting times, the department introduced a range of new services for people with minor injuries or illnesses, as an alternative to A&E departments.
The most high- profile scheme was the creation of walk-in-centres, many in high streets such as the centre in Boots, in Birmingham city centre. But the MPs warned: "These alternative services have been positively received by patients, but they are mainly addressing previously unmet demand rather than taking pressure off existing A&E services and the relative cost effectiveness of all emergency care providers has not been established."
Imposing targets on hospitals had reduced waiting times for most patients, but may have damaged the health care available to others patients, the MPs warned.
They said: "Significant and sustained progress has been made towards the target, and published performance data for July-September 2004 showed on average 95.9 per cent of patients across all acute and primary care trusts in England spent less than four hours in A&E."
On an average day in the NHS, 34,700 people attend an A&E department.