NHS may promise four-month limit on waiting lists

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Patients may be promised they will have to wait no more than four months for an operation after seeing their GP under a new five-year plan for the NHS.

Patients may be promised they will have to wait no more than four months for an operation after seeing their GP under a new five-year plan for the NHS.

Tony Blair and John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health, have been looking at ways to invigorate the health service after holding talks at Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence.

According to draft proposals being circulated in Whitehall, patients could have the right to hospital treatment within four months of a referral by a GP - a move that would reduce hidden waiting times for diagnostic tests, which dramatically slow many patients' waits.

The new NHS plan may also seek to cut the number of people who are admitted to hospital in the first place.

Next week Mr Reid will address Labour MPs about his proposals. He is expected to stress the need for helping the 17.5 million people living with chronic conditions such as arthritis, asthma and diabetes and to emphasis intervening early to identify sufferers before they experience "acute" problems that lead to hospitalisation. Figures show that just five per cent of patients admitted to hospital account for almost half "inpatient bed days".

The draft proposals are also expected to look at tackling health inequalities among income and ethnic groups and reducing inappropriate hospital admissions by 30 per cent.

Details of the new targets, obtained by the Health Service Journal, are expected to be published in a policy document this summer.

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