Renewed pledge by Blair on NHS lists

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR promised further action to cut hospital waiting lists yesterday amid growing jitters in the Government that the issue could prove to be its Achilles' heel.

The Prime Minister an-nounced an extra pounds 10m to cut waiting times for cancer patients. From next year, everyone suspected of having the disease will be seen by a consultant within two weeks - a pledge that already applies to all women suspected of having breast cancer.

Mr Blair defended the Government's record when he hosted a seminar at Downing Street for GPs, consultants and NHS managers. He insisted Labour was "well on the way" to meeting its 1997 election promise to cut waiting lists by treating an extra 100,000 patients.

But he conceded that patients were "frustrated" by the length of time they had to wait for treatment. He said: "I still think there's an awful lot more we can do within the health service."

Yesterday's seminar focused on the need to reduce waiting times for out- patient appointments. Health authorities will be required to monitor their performance and report back regularly to Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health.

Although the average wait for an out-patient appointment was seven weeks, Mr Blair admitted the list of people waiting more than 13 weeks was growing.

But he dismissed as "just plain wrong" claims that people were being forced to wait longer to see a consultant so that waiting lists for operations could be kept down. Figures showed the NHS dealt with record numbers of both in-patients and out- patients last year, he said.

The Tories claimed the new move on waiting lists was a "panic announcement". Philip Hammond, a spokesman on health, said: "Tony Blair's desperation to meet his purely political waiting-list pledge has led to the distortion of clinical priorities and is actually harming patients."

Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrats' health spokesman, dismissed the initiative as a gimmick. "Out-patient waiting lists have risen because the Government forced hospitals to take resources from out-patients to pay for in-patients," he said.

Demand for hip replacements could double over the next 30 years, imposing a huge burden on the health service, according to a report due to be published today.

Researchers led by Professor Alan Silman, from the University of Manchester, used projected changes in population to estimate how many hip replacements might be needed in the next 30 years. They also drew on data from Sweden, where guidelines are adopted to ensure hip replacements are done when needed.

Professor Silman's team calculated that population changes alone would lead to a 40 per cent increase in demand over the next 30 years. In 1992, the operations cost the NHS an estimated pounds 231m.