Dobson shrugs off NHS attack

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST good news on National Health Service waiting lists since the election was greeted with allegations, warnings and criticisms yesterday.

Releasing the latest figures, Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, said they showed a drop of 45,000 in the numbers waiting for treatment between 30 April and 31 July, the largest fall on record. "The supertanker has turned," he said.

The Tories accused him of fiddling the figures. They claimed ruses included delaying the first consultation with a specialist so patients take longer to reach the official waiting list, refusing operations such as varicose veins on the NHS and "culling" the lists - asking patients if they wish to remain on them and giving them only a short time to respond. Mr Dobson replied that he was doing nothing that they had not themselves done.

The Liberals claimed so many staff were abandoning the supertanker it was in danger of being left rudderless, while Unison, the largest NHS union, warned it would run aground unless the Government delivered higher pay and less stress for nurses.

The British Medical Association, whose members are enjoying overtime rates of up to pounds 900 per half day session to clear the lists, said short- term blitzes were "a very expensive way" of cutting the queues.

The Institute of Health Services Management claimed it was a team effort that had brought the lists down and that managers' role had been "unfairly derided." The NHS Confederation, the only organisation to declare the achievement in cutting the lists an unqualified success, said it had been brought about by "the sheer hard work of NHS staff".