NHS chiefs face waiting lists threat

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THE DIRECTORS of NHS authorities and trusts were yesterday threatened with the sack, if they do not help Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health, to meet his pledge to cut hospital waiting lists.

Mr Dobson, who last week pledged to reduce the waiting lists by 200,000 - to get them 100,000 patients below the queue left by the last government - is to meet senior officials and executives from the 520 health authorities and trusts over the next few weeks.

He said yesterday that he was confident that in large parts of the country, given the enthusiasm of NHS staff and the extra funds that had been committed in the Budget, the Government pledge would be achieved.

But he told BBC television's Breakfast with Frost that the message he would be delivering to the directors would be: "If you fail to do it, we'll have to get other people to come in and give you advice and give you help, but it's got to be delivered."

Asked whether they would be sacked if they failed, Mr Dobson replied: "Well, I can't get rid of the paid officials of the National Health Service, but the people I appoint as chairs and non-executive directors hold their positions while I have confidence in them, and I have confidence in the vast majority of them.

"I'm taking responsibility for the decisions I take, and what I do want to see is the non-executive directors and chairs taking more responsibility in future for the outfits that they're involved in running."

Ministers are disturbed that there is a marked disparity in the delivery of services between different authorities and trusts, and they want to encourage them all to achieve the standards of the best.

But there is no doubt that if the poorest authorities and trusts do not pull their socks up, management shake-ups will follow. The policy had been used to help badly-performing schools, and it could also be applied to under-performing hospitals.

Mr Dobson's message will be bolstered by the fact that NHS directors are not the only ones with their jobs on the line.

In saying that he is taking responsibility for his own decisions, he is spelling out a political fact - that his own job would be in jeopardy if significant progress was not made within the next 12 months.