2,000 hospital beds reopened, says Dobson

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TWO thousand hospitals beds are being created to treat more NHS patients off the waiting lists and ease Frank Dobson's embarrassment over the record rise in the numbers waiting for treatment.

The Secretary of State for Health, who recently admitted he was embarrassed by the continued rise in the figures to a record 1.29 million, said yesterday that pounds 500m he had allocated for tackling waiting lists was already allowing hospitals to reopen beds in wards closed due to cash shortages or to create new wards.

Reopening the David Evans ward at the Chelsea & Westminster hospital in London, Mr Dobson said he wanted to reverse the "crazy" closure of wards under the Tory government.

Mr Dobson's announcement that NHS figures show 2,000 extra beds being reopened or created could be planned to take some sting out of the Conservative attack today in the Commons during health questions with the new Tory health team led by Ann Widdecombe.

He condemned "the theology" of some NHS officials who believe bed closures were essential to make the system more efficient. "I want to get away from the situation where you have an operating theatre and wards and beds and equipment and staff available but no money to use them. That is just crazy," he said.

While the medical Royal Colleges now accept that bed closures are not the answer, many in the NHS might be upset by plans to reopen beds, he said. "The theologians might be bothered but it will take a lot of theology to convince me that the evidence of my own eyes is wrong," he added.

Mr Dobson has published waiting list targets for every NHS region in England for the coming year to ensure that his target, of cutting waiting lists to the level Labour inherited from the Tories by April next year, is achieved.

The numbers waiting for treatment rose for the first quarter of this year by 35,700 despite the Government's early pledge to reduce waiting lists by 100,000 from the level they inherited from the Tories.

Of the pounds 500m earmarked for the NHS by the Chancellor, Gordon Brown - pounds 417m of which was for England - pounds 385m has been allocated to health authorities to tackle waiting lists.

The first ever NHS patient yesterday called for greater public support for the health service. Sylvia Diggory was 13 years old when Aneurin Bevan launched the start of the NHS 50 years ago by her bedside in Park Hospital, Manchester - now Trafford General - where she was being treated for kidney inflammation.

Today, Mrs Diggory, 63, of Malton, North Yorkshire, praised the work of the NHS and its staff at the formal launch of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the health service this year at Lancaster House, London.