Parliament - Health: Hague accuses Labour of failure on waiting lists

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The Independent Online
THE PRIME Minister defended the Government's reforms of the National Health Service yesterday in the teeth of bitter criticism from junior doctors and the British Medical Association.

At Commons question time, the Tory leader, William Hague, accused ministers of breaking their manifesto pledge to cut waiting lists and dubbed their failure a "story of simple incompetence".

But Mr Blair insisted NHS waiting list numbers were down by 62,000 and the number of junior doctors working more than 56 hours a week had fallen from 6,500 to 4,800 since Labour came to power.

He promised to go on working to cut the long hours faced by junior doctors but admitted it would take time to train new doctors to take up the load.

Mr Hague claimed the waiting list to see a consultant had doubled since Mr Blair became Prime Minister. "Are you going to keep on blaming other people for that, or are you and your ministers going to take responsibility for this miserable failure?" he demanded.

Mr Blair told him: "Waiting lists are actually down as a result of this Government's policies. It is this Government that is putting an extra pounds 21bn into the health service, opposed by your party."

Mr Hague said: "It's a good job there isn't a waiting list for a straight answer or we would be here for a very long time indeed."

He went on: "The fact is that the number of consultants is down, the number of complaints is up, the waiting list promise has been broken. The waiting list to get on the waiting list has been doubled. The junior doctors have been betrayed. The head of the BMA said in his speech on Monday, `Congratulations, Mr Blair, morale has never been so low'.

"Will you now give us the actual figure for the number of people waiting to see a consultant?"

Mr Blair said the waiting lists, at just over one million, were 62,000 down on Labour's 1997 inheritance. "Average waiting times are now shorter. When we came to office, there were 6,500 junior doctors working more than 56 hours a week. That is an unacceptable figure. It is now 4,800," he said.`