Waiting list creeps back above key NHS target

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

A small increase in the NHS waiting list prompted sharp exchanges between the Government and opposition parties yesterday as the latest figures showed it had risen above a key threshold in January, in breach of a Labour manifesto pledge.

A small increase in the NHS waiting list prompted sharp exchanges between the Government and opposition parties yesterday as the latest figures showed it had risen above a key threshold in January, in breach of a Labour manifesto pledge.

The rise of 1.8 per cent in a year took the total NHS waiting list to 1,058,100 – breaching by 96 patients the ceiling the Labour government set itself before the 1997 election.

In its 1997 manifesto, Labour promised to cut 100,000 patients from the waiting list, an achievement reached almost a year before the last election in June 2001. But with the latest rise, the waiting list now stands at 99,904 below the March 1997 level, 96 patients short of fulfilling the pledge.

The Tories seized on the figures as evidence that the Government had lost its grip on the health service. The shadow Secretary of State for Health, Liam Fox, said: "This is a major blow to Tony Blair and Alan Milburn. Despite all the fiddling of the figures and the creation of a waiting list to get on to the waiting list, Labour's handling of the NHS has been so incompetent they are now failing to achieve even the targets they set themselves in 1997.

"It is becoming increasingly clear that Labour's chronic mismanagement of the NHS means that it will continue to fail patients as long as it remains in office."

Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: "Numbers on waiting lists was always a stupid target since they reflect activity rather than delay. The tragic thing is that so many patients have suffered from distorted priorities as Labour struggle to reduce numbers instead of concentrating on waiting times."

The figures showed the total number waiting increased by 19,200 between January 2001 and January 2002 and by 7,900 (0.8 per cent) between the end of December and the end of January this year.

However, there was comfort for the Government on the longest waits, which were sharply down. Nearly three-quarters of NHS trusts are meeting the Government's pledge that no patient should have to wait longer than 15 months for inpatient treatment or six months for an outpatient appointment by the end of March. Inpatient waiting figures for January 2002 showed that 165 (72 per cent) of 230 trusts had no one waiting more than 15 months.

The number of patients waiting more than a year for treatment fell by 1,800 in January, and the number waiting more than 15 months by 1,000. There were 29,600 patients waiting more than a year and 3,200 waiting more than 15 months at 31 January.

The Health minister John Hutton said: "The fact that nearly three-quarters of NHS trusts now have no patient waiting longer than 15 months highlights the dedication of all doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff to reducing waiting and improving services."

Separate health department figures published yesterday showed 95 per cent of patients urgently referred by their GP with suspected cancer were being seen within two weeks, up from 91 per cent for the previous quarter.

£ Doctors in Mexico have developed a method of giving the MMR vaccine through an aerosol spray, inhaled in 30 seconds by a child wearing a breathing mask, avoiding the need for an injection. They are to present their findings to the World Health Organisation later this month.

Comments