Heart by-pass patients 'should be treated within a year': Bottomley offers pledge to patients on by-pass waiting lists

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PATIENTS on waiting lists for heart by-pass operations should be treated within a year under new targets set out in the patient's charter, it was disclosed yesterday by Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health.

The extension of the patient's charter to include new targets for by-pass operations follows continued criticism that heart patients have been dying on the waiting list, but it fell short of a guarantee.

Mrs Bottomley said it was hoped to extend the target to a guarantee at a later stage. The charter would be extended to include a national target for the length of time all patients had to wait for their first outpatient appointments at hospitals from April 1995.

She announced the changes at a hurriedly arranged press conference in London to pre-empt an attack by Labour as part of its local election campaign on the alleged false claims about the reductions in the waiting lists.

Mrs Bottomley, who is planning to publish the expanded patient's charter in the autumn, said it would cover improvements in hospital food, following a critical report published by the National Audit Office; hospital league tables published in June; and simplifying and speeding up the NHS complaints system.

Her rapid response underlined the importance attached by the Government to defending its record on health in the elections. Ministers are convinced the charter has improved standards in hospitals, with support from patients.

But she was accused of spinning a 'web of deception' over the waiting-list figures by David Blunkett, Labour's health spokesman. He said Mrs Bottomley was making 'policy on the hoof' in response to Labour pressure. He said 800,000 fewer patients were treated in English hospitals in 1992-93 than was revealed by official statistics. Mr Blunkett said 1 million more people were on waiting lists than ministers admitted.

Patients were being removed from waiting lists by managers in 'validation exercises', Mr Blunkett said. 'The Tories set themselves three tests on how they would improve the NHS and on all three tests - waiting lists, waiting times and patients treated - they are failing.'

Hospital food fails to satisfy as many as one in six patients, a National Audit Office report says. A random survey of 24 hospitals in England found that 15 per cent of patients questioned thought the food they were given was either poor or very poor. Most complaints were made by younger patients.

The report says patients should be allowed to order meals closer to the time of eating; meal sizes should be varied to match appetites; presentation should be improved and complaints should be promptly investigated.

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