More than 1,200 wait two years for surgery

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The Independent Online
THE NUMBER of people waiting for operations for more than two years continued to confound Government promises that no one would go untreated for so long, according to figures released yesterday.

But the number waiting more than two years did fall to 1,244 in the three months to the end of June, from 1,640 in the first quarter, when the figure caused the Conservatives embarrassment just before the general election.

The increasing number waiting for more than 12 months, seen during the first three months of the year, was also repeated in the latest figures released by the Department of Health, growing by 2,989 to 82,485.

Critics argue that as resources have been concentrated on meeting the Government's pledge in the Patient's Charter of eliminating delays of more than two years, others, particularly those waiting between one and two years, have taken a back seat.

But Tom Sackville, Minister of State at the Department of Health, maintained the length of those waiting lists would fall this year and next as the Government's measures gathered momentum. 'Although the number of patients waiting over one year rose slightly in the three months to the end of June, these patients still account for fewer than one in ten of the total number waiting,' he said. 'The figures for the first quarter of the financial year show that over two-year waits have continued their downward trend. Firm management action is being taken elsewhere to maintain this downward pressure.'

He said that a year ago 50,000 people had been waiting more than two years and almost 170,000 more than a year for treatment.

The Government spent pounds 39m last year reducing numbers on waiting lists, including sending NHS patients to private hospitals to achieve the huge reduction in the number waiting more than two years. A further pounds 39m has been set aside this year to cut lists further.

Ian McCartney, Labour's NHS spokesman, said that the increases in some areas showed that the Government's strategy had merely transferred the pressures. 'It is an indication that since the general election the waiting list initiative is dead and buried,' he said. 'The Government's short term measures to reduce two-year waiting lists is having an effect on those waiting more than a year. And those further down the list are having growing problems.'

David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman, added: 'As with the health of the economy so with the health of the nation. Conservative Party promises of better times to come have been shown to be hot air and deception.'

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