More patients waiting longer than a year for surgery than in 1997

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The proportion of patients waiting longer than a year for an operation has risen in more than half of health authorities since Labour came to power, figures released last night reveal.

The proportion of patients waiting longer than a year for an operation has risen in more than half of health authorities since Labour came to power, figures released last night reveal.

The Conservatives seized on the figures, which show that the percentage of patients waiting more than 12 months had risen in 50 of the 95 health authorities in England since 1997. The figures, revealed in a parliamentary written answer by John Hutton, the Minister of State for Health, also show large disparities in waiting-list performances between different parts of the country.

In West Surrey Health Authority, more than one in 10 patients have to wait longer than 12 months for an operation, while in Dorset only 0.1 per cent are left hanging on beyond 12 months. In West Sussex, 9.3 per cent must wait at least a year.

In some cases, the increases in the numbers of people waiting a year or more has been sharp. In south and west Devon, the proportion of patients waiting 12 months or more went from 0.7 per cent in 1997 to 6.6 per cent in August, the latest figures available. In east Kent, the proportion went from 0.3 to 6.9 per cent.

Liam Fox, the shadow Health Secretary, blamed the increase on government mismanagement of care homes, leading to hospital "bed-blocking". He said: "The Government was warned that its handling of this would lead to widespread home closures and bed losses and that is exactly what had happened."

The figures follow last week's damning report from the National Audit Office, which showed that managers at nine hospital trusts had "fiddled" waiting lists to disguise the number of very long delays.

Responding to yesterday's figures, West Sussex Health Authority said the high percentage of over-75 year olds in the area increased demand.

A spokeswoman for Dorset Health Authority said staff had developed a close relationship with social services to counter hospital bed-blocking and ensure patients had places to go such as community hospitals and care homes. Monthly checks on the waiting list and the use of the private sector had helped keep waiting times down, she said.

The worst authorities (as a percentage of patients waiting more than a year for in-patient treatment) are: West Surrey, 10.9 per cent; Croydon, 9.6 per cent; West Sussex, 9.3 per cent; East Surrey, 8.7 per cent; Lambeth, Southwark & Lewisham, 8.5 per cent.

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