Waiting lists rise by 13,000

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The Independent Online
FRANK DOBSON is facing a fresh blow to his promise of cutting NHS waiting lists with the publication tomorrow of the latest figures showing that the number of patients waiting for treatment has risen by 13,000. The increase will be attacked by the Tories as a sign of the Government's failure to deliver its promises on the NHS.

However, the Secretary of State for Health will argue that the rise in the December figures is a "blip" caused by the extra winter pressures on NHS hospitals, and he will achieve his target of cutting the total by 100,000 by April. "We are still on course to achieve our target," said a Whitehall source.

Mr Dobson ordered the figures to be collected and published each month. He has been advised the figures for the first quarter of this year would mark an over all reduction of over 40,000, comfortably achieving his promise a year ago to get the waiting lists down, by April, to the level inherited from the Tories when Labour took office.

The Health Secretary has reassured Tony Blair that Labour's general election pledge to cut the waiting lists by 100,000 is achievable by the end of the Parliament, in spite of the December rise.

The cause of the rise in the numbers waiting is believed to have been a combination of flu, GP surgeries closing for the Christmas and New Year holidays, and a panic over meningitis which led patients in droves to seek help in accident and emergency units.

The total number waiting in November, the last month for which the figures were published, stood at 1,162,100, which represented a fall of 31,400 on the previous month. The total number waiting fell by 136,000 between March, when he gave his pledge, and November.

The Health Minister, John Denham, will be announcing more cash with special assistance for health authorities, which have demonstrated they are modernising services. The new pay deal for the NHS, ranging from 4.7 per cent for most nurses to 12 per cent for nurse trainees, will have to be met partly from efficiency savings, but the Health Secretary denies that this will put extrapressures on the health service to meet its target.

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