Labour in Blackpool: Blunkett claims proof of 'fiddled NHS wait lists'

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The Independent Online
HOSPITALS were yesterday accused of 'fiddling the figures' over outpatient waiting times ahead of a new Patient's Charter target which Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, is to introduce next year.

The charge came from David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, who accused the Oxford Radcliffe Hospital of keeping official and unofficial waiting lists, to make the figures look better.

He quoted a letter sent by Linda Kennedy, of the hospital's surgical clinical centre, telling a patient that 'you are on a waiting list for the outpatient appointment, although this does not show in official figures as you are not actually recorded on the administration system. That happens when you receive your appointment'. Patients with similar conditions, she wrote, 'are waiting approximately 15 months from the receipt of the letter to the appointment being given. The wait to treatment after that appointment is, I believe . . . six months'.

That, Mr Blunkett said, showed 'just how the Government figures are fiddled. The patient would have to wait 21 months but Mrs Bottomley could claim she only had to wait six months. And six months is what would be recorded in the bogus hospital league tables'.

Yesterday, the hospital said there had been 'a misunderstanding' over a badly written letter. The figures given for waiting times were 'a mistake' while 'official' figures referred to the ordinary waiting list once a consultant decided an operation was necessary. Pat White, director of planning, said: 'I can state categorically we do not have any hidden lists for outpatient appointments.'

Mr Blunkett yesterday challenged Mrs Bottomley to set a new target which embraced the time from GP referral to actual treatment - and to publish the figures. In his speech, he also pledged Labour to abolishing GP fundholding - 'no ifs, no buts, and no equivocation' - while also removing 'self- governing undemocratic trusts as well'.

Mr Blunkett, damning the Conservatives' stewardship of the NHS as 'a scandal', produced leaked internal NHS guidance which said that the health authority purchasers had 'a central role' in promoting entry to the NHS market by new suppliers in order to produce competition.

Purchasers should even consider lending suppliers funds in order to establish new facilities and produce competition. The document was proof that 'the Tories see our NHS as a business rather than a caring service'.