'Long trolley waits' frequent at hospital in NHS dispute

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An official report on the hospital at the centre of the controversy over the treatment of 94-year-old Rose Addis has criticised the long waiting times in its accident and emergency department.

The Commission for Health Improvement, the Government's NHS watchdog, called for action to cut "long trolley waits" at the Whittington Hospital in north London. Its report said 93 patients had to wait between four and 12 hours on trolleys in the A&E department last August, a "significant increase" on previous months.

The findings of the review were publicised as Islington Community Health Council, the local patients' watchdog, said complaints about the Whittington "often mention long waits in A&E and the quality of care provided".

The criticism will fuel the political row over Mrs Addis's treatment, which broke on Wednesday when Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, backed her family's complaints that she spent 72 hours in casualty.

Tony Blair will seek to launch a fightback over public services today in a keynote speech in Newcastle in which he will heap praise on public- sector workers. "Trust, motivation and support of our staff are at the heart of what we are about," he will say.

The Prime Minister will accuse the Tories of "denigrating everything about public services" to pave the way for a policy of tax cuts and people paying for private treatment.

Last night senior managers at the Whittington apologised for suggestions by the hospital that Mrs Addis might have refused to be treated by staff because of their race.

Trevor Campbell-Davis, the hospital's chief executive, said: "The family said they were very concerned that any comments from my colleagues may have suggested a slur on the views of the family, particularly to do with racial matters. I was happy to reassure them that this was not our intention and that if they viewed it in this way, we apologise."

Mr Blair and Mr Duncan Smith said they had no regrets over their role in the affair. Downing Street dismissed as "nonsense" Tory claims that it breached the rules on patient confidentiality by speaking about three cases at the Whittington, insisting it only repeated press statements already made by the hospital.

Number 10 backed as a "sensible approach" a call by the British Medical Association for party leaders to accept the principle of not disclosing medical details. But the Tories accused the Government of threatening to "bully" the public after Downing Street made clear the NHS would rebut future "inaccurate" claims by patients.

Meanwhile, James Malone-Lee, the clinical director at the Whittington who was at the centre of the row after siding with Mr Blair's comments on the treatment of Mrs Addis, was accused by the Tories of being a government stooge after news emerged that he had been a Labour Party member for more than 20 years.

Professor Malone-Lee, who fiercely disputed the Addis family's version of events, shared an election platform with Robin Cook when he was Labour's health spokesman.

Last night, he defended his position, insisting on BBC's Newsnight that his political outlook had not informed his professional opinion and that he had had no contact with the Government on the current matter.

Meanwhile, Liam Fox, the shadow Health Secretary, said: "He is not just a Labour member, he is an activist."

While Mr Blair will present himself today as a defender of public servants, Mr Duncan Smith pledged to champion the rights of patients. "I am going to stand up for people against the machine," he said.

The health commission's report says: "All the stakeholders interviewed referred to the serious pressures on the accident and emergency department. The majority of concerns that patients raised concerned long waits in A&E."

Mr Campbell-Davis said: "We recognise that waiting times in A&E are an issue. It is my view that we need to fundamentally redesign the way these units work."

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