Labour attacked as hospital queues lengthen

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Waiting lists in NHS hospitals are set to rise sharply over the next year, despite Labour's election promise of swifter patient treatment.

The health minister Alan Milburn has admitted that waiting lists will get longer in 44 of the 100 health authorities in England - and shorter in only four.

The figures were given in a written parliamentary answer to Simon Hughes, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, as the Commons went into recess for three months. They show that contracted maximum waiting times will rise by up to six months in many parts of the country, particularly in London.

Barnet, Brent and Harrow, Enfield and Haringey, North Essex, South Essex and West Herts health authorities have all increased contracted maximum waiting times by six months to 18 months, as have Bexley and Greenwich, Merton Sutton and Wandsworth, West Surrey and West Sussex. Waiting lists are also lengthening in the east Midlands, the South and West and Anglia and Oxford Regions.

Mr Milburn blamed the former Conservative government for a situation Labour had inherited and said the Government had made clear the priority it attaches to waiting lists and to safeguarding emergency admissions.

The Liberal Democrats said that before 1 May, hardly a day went by without Labour highlighting the problem of growing waiting lists. One of the Government's key manifesto pledges was to take 100,000 people off waiting lists.

"However, the harsh reality is that under Labour, waiting lists are set to get longer. The evidence throughout the country is that next year health authorities are routinely setting higher maximum waiting times," said Mr Hughes. "Despite the government rhetoric about protecting the health service, the reality is that the current financial year has not seen any new money for the NHS. As for next year, the announced increase in funds will be largely eaten up by a higher than expected inflation rate."

The Tories also attacked the Government's health policy. John Redwood, Shadow Trade Secretary, said : "There has not been a single penny voted for the NHS in the current year. Waiting lists at my local hospital are going up very sharply indeed."