Hospital waiting lists still rising, Labour says

(First Edition)

MORE evidence of the inexorable rise in people waiting more than a year for operations is disclosed today in figures issued by the Labour Party.

In August there were 70,224 people who had been waiting more than a year for treatment, an increase of 6.8 per cent over the year. The total number of people waiting for surgery rose by more than 90,000 to 1,031,328 compared to 939,846 in September 1992.

The summer's figures illustrate the steady increase. In June, the number waiting was 1,017,763 and in July it was 1,025,615.

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, said yesterday: 'Waiting lists continue to rise and the number of those waiting for more than a year is increasing even faster.'

He called on Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, to look at which hospital facilities are 'lying idle as a result of cancellations due to budgets running out' and to use them to tackle the waiting list problem.

In the West Midlands, the number of people waiting rose from 104,210 in July to 106,024 in August, an increase of 1.7 per cent. The biggest increase between July and August was in South East Thames, where waiting lists rose by 2.4 per cent; between June and July the biggest rise was in South West Thames, up 4.2 per cent.

The Department of Health is providing pounds 39m in the current year to tackle the problem. This is extra money in form of special allocations to the regions.

But many hospitals, striving to get lists down, 'overperformed' earlier in the year. Across the country, seven months before the end of the financial year, health authorities have ordered hospitals to stop non-urgent surgery. This is because they have completed the number of cases they were contracted to treat, too soon, and no more money is available.

A month ago the Government's own figures confirmed that the waiting lists had topped a million for the first time since the NHS was created.