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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"Delays cost lives"
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Dr. Liam Fox, Shadow Health Secretary
"The question is the number of intensive care beds"
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Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 13:41 GMT
NHS heart operations row
Heart surgery
Heart operations: Surgeons say they fell last year
A senior surgeon has said the number of heart bypass operations across the UK has fallen, despite the government's high profile commitment to cutting heart disease.

There has also been pressure on the government over cancer care, after a survey showed that some patients in England were waiting three times as long as others for cancer surgery.

Mr Jules Dussek, president of the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons, says the number of heart bypass operations fell last year for the first time in 25 years, because of a shortage of intensive care and recovery beds.

This kind of operation is not one you can wait for. There is a risk of dying while waiting.

Surgeon Jules Dussek
Mr Dussek says that, according to figures compiled by the UK Cardiac Surgical Register, the number of bypass operations fell by around 600 last year, to 25,083.

"This kind of operation is not one you can wait for," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"There is a risk of dying while waiting."

Mr Dussek said doctors were "twiddling their thumbs" while waiting for the necessary beds to be made available, and a recent survey had found surgeons operating at 25% below normal rates.

But the suggestion that the number of operations has fallen is disputed by the Department of Health, which says that the total in England rose to 23,663 last year, up from 22,181 the previous year. However, the Department's figures do not cover the whole of the UK.


Mr Jules Dussek
Mr Jules Dussek says fewer bypass operations are taking place
The comments from Mr Dussek come only a week after the government announced it was committing extra resources to combat heart disease.

The Health Secretary, Alan Milburn said he wanted to cut deaths from heart disease and stroke in England by 40% by 2010.

The programme will be overseen by a National Heart Director, Dr Roger Boyle, who is chairman of the Speciality Advisory Committee in cardiovascular medicine.

We have got problems on all fronts. What we want is a sea change

Dr Roger Boyle, National Heart Director
Dr Boyle told the BBC: "We have got problems on all fronts. What we want is a sea change.

"Handling the flow of patients is very difficult without having surgeons sometimes standing by, unable to operate, but it does not happen that often."

Dr Boyle said 50m had been made available to fund 3,000 extra operations over the next two years, but conceded that while that would be mean faster treatment for more pressing cases, there would be little impact on those people with less acute conditions.

He said the government's programme to overhaul coronary services would take five to ten years.

Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "The government needs to make sure that there are the intensive care beds available.

"We know the government have already lied to us once this winter. They told us there were 100 extra intensive care beds available, we knew in the end there were less than 30."

The claims from Mr Dussek that heart operations are falling come as the government already faces pressure over its health policies.

Only a few days ago, official figures showed that hospital waiting lists in England rose by 10,700 in January to 1,118,700.

Breast cancer

Alan Milburn
Alan Milburn: Pledged to tackle heart disease
The cancer survey by researchers at the University of Birmingham, funded by the Department of Health, reveals that the figures for waiting times vary widely between cancers, but even the type of the disease treated most quickly - breast cancer - involved a wait of between two and three months on average.

According to the survey, men with prostate cancer face the longest waits. The average delay for 90% of patients is 292 days.

The government has insisted that the figures are now outdated, and that pledges to cut waiting times for cancer are increasingly being met.

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10 Mar 00 | Health
NHS waiting lists up again
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