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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 April 2006, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
NHS 'enjoying best year' - Hewitt
Patricia Hewitt

Despite huge job losses and mounting financial problems, the NHS is enjoying "its best year ever" according to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

The service faces a financial deficit of up to 800m and some 7,000 job losses have already been confirmed.

Mrs Hewitt said: "We have just come through one of the coldest winters for decades and we haven't had any of the winter bed crises."

The Conservatives say the service's problems are down to mismanagement.

Mrs Hewitt said the NHS had "saved more lives than ever before" this year.

'No complacency'

But Ms Hewitt has denied there is a crisis, insisting the deficit amounted to no more than 1% of the NHS's total budget.

She said the job cuts - which latest estimates suggest could rise to 13,000 - were in many cases allowing the service to operate more efficiently.

"Despite the headlines, actually the NHS has just had its best year ever," she told the BBC.

She said the government had delivered on its promise that the maximum waiting time would be six months for operations such as hip replacements.

"In the bad old days", she said, the waiting times would have been closer to two years.

The health secretary insisted she was not "complacent" about the cash problems, saying she was "determined" to sort them out before they began to threaten patient care.

Critics have claimed that NHS managers have been spending too much on staff wages, paying too high prices for some drugs and wasting cash by mismanaging cost-cutting initiatives.

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