Hospital waiting lists shrink

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The Independent Online

Public Policy Editor

NHS waiting lists could be effectively eliminated over the next five years, NHS managers and analysts said yesterday as most health service regions look likely to have no-one waiting more than 12 months for treatment by this April.

Although the numbers on the waiting list still stand at over one million, almost no-one now waits more than 18 months for treatment and the numbers waiting more than a year have plummeted from more than 120,000 in 1990 to 27,000 last year, latest NHS statistics show.

Elimination of waits of more than a year would provide a significant boost for the Government prior to a general election. But despite NHS sources saying pressure was being put on regional chairman to achieve that goal by March, the Department of Health said there was no official target.

With at least one region - North Thames, which has more than 11,000 waiting over a year - unlikely to eliminate waits of 12 months before 1997, NHS officials believe Stephen Dorrell, the Secretary of State for Health, is reluctant publicly to set a target.

In the West Midlands, however, no patient now waits more than nine months. The North West has no patients waiting more than a year and the South and West has virtually reached the same mark.

Gerard Marchand, the West Midland's project director,said that nationally 71 per cent of patients are admitted within three months and all patients should in time be a given an appointment within three months.

The change has resulted from a range of factors, including regions such as the West Midlands and North West providing earmarked funds - pounds 30m in one case - to target long waits.