The Conservative Party in Blackpool: Patients with urgent conditions to have priority

PATIENTS with urgent conditions are to be guaranteed treatment within a fixed time after complaints that minor conditions are being treated at the expense of seriously ill patients in order to honour the Government's commitments under the Patient's Charter.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, hopes to agree with the Joint Consultants Committee a list of conditions, such as breast lumps and serious heart conditions, which will be guaranteed treatment within a month or six weeks.

This follows complaints from both doctors and patients that government promises that no one will wait more than two years have seen minor conditions queue-jump ahead of life-threatening ones.

Mrs Bottomley said yesterday: 'I hope we can come to an agreement with the profession and the service as to what constitutes a definition of an urgent case'.

The Secretary of State is due next week to agree a shake-up at the top of the NHS, which will eventually see regional health authorities turned into arms of the NHS management executive.

The move will mean a massive centralisation of power in the NHS, in effect putting the management executive in charge of running the NHS market, free of any influence from regional health authority members.

Legislation will be needed to do that, and Mrs Bottomley is expected to announce that initially the 14 regions will be cut to 8, to form the basis for the new executive arms, which are expected to oversee both purchasing authorities and NHS trusts.

As the regions are reduced in number, district health authorities - already down from 190 to 140 - will be reduced further and merged with Family Health Service Authorities so that they can buy health care jointly. Some are already doing so, but lack the legal basis for that.

The move will be part of changes to 'both simplify and clarify structures' and 'provide more resources for patients' Mrs Bottomley told the conference.

She announced that 99 more NHS trusts will become operational next April - by which time 90 per cent of NHS cash for hospital and community services will be spent through them.

Decisions on a further 40 - including virtually all the applications from London - have been postponed.