Reid launches new NHS improvement plan

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The maximum waiting time for an operation is to be cut to 18 weeks by 2008, Health Secretary John Reid announced today.

The maximum waiting time for an operation is to be cut to 18 weeks by 2008, Health Secretary John Reid announced today.

Under the Government's five-year improvement plans, Dr Reid said that every patient referred by a GP will be able to choose to be treated at any facility, meeting NHS standards, in England from the same date.

He promised thousands of new community matrons to provide "personalised care" for 17.5 million people suffering chronic and long-term medical conditions like diabetes.

Dr Reid said Labour's guiding principle would be that NHS care "will continue to be provided according to need and not according to ability to pay".

But shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley accused the Government of a "pig-headed" obsession with targets, adding: "No one in the NHS tells me they need more targets.

"They tell me they need less bureaucracy, fewer targets, more autonomy and more resources reaching the front line."

Dr Reid said the Government would publish a White Paper this autumn setting outdetailed plans to tackle major causes of ill health, including smoking, obesityand sexually-transmitted infections.

In a statement to MPs, he said the Government was making good progress towards meeting the challenge of providing a "world class service", with sustained increases in investment, more doctors and more nurses.

Labour's vision was to provide equal access to the widest possible range of high quality services.

With the parties' policies on the NHS set to become a major battleground in the run up to the next election, Dr Reid said none of the extra billions of pounds the Government was spending on the NHS would be "diverted as a subsidy for the relatively well off few to jump the waiting list".

By 2008, from the time a patient was referred by a family doctor for treatment, to the door of the operating theatre, no one would wait more than 18 weeks for an operation.

This should ensure an average wait of around nine or 10 weeks.

By the end of next year, all patients who needed to go to hospital for elective care will be offered a choice of four of five providers.

But by 2008 this choice would be extended to any facility in England that met NHS standards and could provide care at the NHS price for the procedure needed.

Accusing the Tory party of "hypocrisy" over health policy, Dr Reid saidproviding thousands of community matrons would help the long term sick leadfulfilling lives.

The plan, he said, would deliver an NHS characterised by "access based on need, not ability to pay ... guaranteed waiting times, not unlimited waits; queue cutting, not queue jumping".

Mr Lansley said "Labour's pig-headed belief" was that setting targets was the same as getting things done.

"It isn't. It's the staff in the NHS who get things done - the doctors, the nurses and other professionals.

"They tell me that targets distort clinical priorities and that red tape stops them devoting the time they wish to care for patients."