Seven NHS Trusts with the biggest rises in out-patient waiting times were named by the Government yesterday in the opening move of its campaign to modernise the NHS.

Seven NHS Trusts with the biggest rises in out-patient waiting times were named by the Government yesterday in the opening move of its campaign to modernise the NHS.

The seven trusts accounted for a quarter of the rise in the out-patient waiting lists over the past three months and will now be visited by action teams from the NHS Modernisation Agency, which will investigate the rise and bring in measures to reduce it.

The latest figures show the number of patients waiting more than 13 weeks for an out-patient appointment rose in the June quarter by 42,800 to 444,000 after falling in the previous quarter by 94,000. Targets set under the NHS plan are that no one should wait more than 13 weeks for an out-patient appointment by 2005. This requires that the figure of 444,000 be reduced to zero.

In all, 19 trusts accounted for half the increase in the June figure with seven accounting for a quarter. The seven NHS trusts named yesterday were: Aintree Hospitals, Dudley Group of Hospitals, Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals, Leeds Teaching Hospitals, Plymouth Hospitals, Southend Hospital and Worcester Hospital.

Long waits for treatment were the principal cause of frustration with the NHS identified in the public consultation on the NHS plan in May. But there was one glimmer of good news yesterday with figures showing the in-patient waiting list had fallen by 5,000 to 1,047,900. The in-patient list is now 110,100 below the level at the 1997 election, maintaining Labour's pledge to reduce the list by at least 100,000.

Lord Hunt of King's Heath, a Health minister, said yesterday: "The public's top concern about the NHS is waiting for treatment and it is excellent news to see the in-patient waiting lists keeping below the 100,000 pledge level. But the out-patients rise has to be tackled with immediate action. There is usually a seasonal rise in these figures but this increase is far too high."

The Tories seized on the figures as proof that Labour's "war on waiting" had led to longer queues in other parts of the health service. The Conservative health spokesman Philip Hammond said: "These figures are very worrying. They indicate that the winter crisis which is often associated with the NHS is now becoming a year-long crisis."

Teams from the National Patient Access Team, the core of the Modernisation Agency, will go into the seven named trusts to help redesign their out-patient waiting systems. Lord Hunt announced an extra £40m to help cut waiting times but in the case of the seven trusts the extra money will be held by the Modernisation Agency and spent at its discretion. Under the NHS plan, poorly performing trusts are given the "red light" and lose their financial independence.

A spokesman for the National Patient Access Team said: "These problems don'talways require cash, theyrequire a different way ofthinking.

"But there are no quick fixes. Trusts are busy places and it is difficult for management to keep their eye on all the balls at once. They don't have the time to look at specific areas, whereas we do."

The teams have made 100 visits to trusts over the past two years to help reduce waiting times. Among them, Medway and the Royal Liverpool have cut their out-patient appointment times after big rises in the previous quarter.

The Department of Health said it expected "dramatic improvements" in the seven named trusts within six months. Yesterday , two of the seven, Aintree and Plymouth, said their out-patient lists were already falling because of efforts they had made.

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