Million people wait to go into hospital: Department of Health confirms outstanding cases have risen 8% in a year to record figure

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THE NUMBER of people waiting for hospital treatment has risen to a record high of almost a million, an increase of more than 8 per cent in the past 12 months.

Hospital waiting lists for in-patient and day cases had grown to 992,324 by the end of March, an increase over the year of 76,717, or 8.4 per cent, and by almost 16,000 in the past three months. The Department of Health confirmed the figure was the highest recorded.

The numbers partly reflect the fact that many hospitals stopped doing non-urgent treatment after January because they ran out of money from health authorities and GP fundholders as they approached the end of the financial year.

The number of people waiting last year was 'artificially lowered' by a large injection of money from the Government before last April's general election, according to the King's Fund, a health research charity.

Sean Boyle, policy adviser to the charity, said there was a large fall in the numbers waiting as the election approached but the lists had returned to where they were 18 months ago.

However, the Department of Health presented the figures of 56,599 patients waiting for over a year as a 'new record low'. Tom Sackville, Parliamentary Secretary for Health, said The total in this category 'has fallen by 21.9 per cent in the quarter since December 1992 and is down by 29.8 per cent since March 1992'.

He pledged the Government would continue to tackle long waiting times by spending pounds 39m from the waiting time fund this year, bringing the total spending on reducing lists to nearly pounds 240m over seven years from April 1987 to March 1994.

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said the overall increase in waiting lists was a scandal. The Government's official statistics underestimated the true number of people waiting for treatment because many people had to wait a long time before even being put on a waiting list.

Mr Blunkett added: 'However much the Government try to hide the truth, the figures are a disaster for

patients.

'No amount of camouflage can disguise the fact that more people are waiting for treatment than ever

before.'

He went on: 'These disastrous figures only tell half the story. The Government should have the courage to count and publish the hidden as well as the real waiting lists. The Government's claims about reduced waiting times are nonsense.'

Mr Sackville conceded: 'The total list shows an increase of 1.6 per cent since December 1992. However, it is the time that patients wait for treatment that matters, not the total number waiting.'

Under the Patient's Charter no one should have to wait more than two years for treatment, and no more than 18 months for certain procedures such as hip and knee replacements and cataract operations.

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