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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 13:02 GMT
Tories condemn waiting list 'pressure'
Waiting lists are a political hot potato
Waiting lists are a political hot potato
The Conservatives have attacked a letter from an NHS chief urging hospitals to meet waiting list targets.

They say the letter exerts unacceptable pressure on managers for political ends.

The regional chairman of the NHS in the south-east region, Sir William Wells, urged trust bosses to meet "manifesto commitments" on waiting lists and times this month.

He wrote: "I have given personal commitments to the chief executive and ministers that there will be dramatic improvements during February and March and we are asking for your personal support and action to deliver this."

Shadow Health Secretary Liam Fox called the letter "an outrage".

I cannot overemphasise the importance of achieving our manifesto commitment ... by the end of March

Sir William Wells
Figures for March would be the last available before a general election, if it was held in May.

When the Labour party came to power in 1997, one of its five key pledges was to reduce the number of people on the waiting list by 100,000.

They hit their target in May last year, though figures have since increased.

The Conservatives say some of the wait has been pushed back onto a "waiting list for the waiting list", when people wait for their out-patient appointment after being referred by their GP.

The government has set targets for trusts to cut the number of patients waiting, including out-patient waits.

They can face financial penalties if they do not meet the targets.

Some doctors have warned that by emphasising the need to reduce waiting lists, clinical priorities have been distorted, with simple procedures being prioritised to the detriment of more complex operations.

Target not met

The south-east NHS region, which stretches from Northamptonshire to the Isle of Wight and Kent.

In his letter, Sir William said 69,666 people had waited more than 13 weeks for an out-patient appointment, according to December 2000 figures.

The target was to reduce the figure to 45,308 by the end of last year.

He wrote: "I remain very concerned about the poor comparative performance of the south east against the crucial waiting list/time targets."

He added: "I cannot overemphasise the importance of achieving our manifesto commitment and reducing 11-week waits by at least 10,000 by the end of March."

Liam Fox said: "It is an outrage that someone in that position should put out that sort of letter."

"The letter shows the enormous and unacceptable political pressure being put on NHS trusts to meet Labour's ill-advised waiting list targets in time for a May election."

He said the NHS Executive was supposed to be an impartial body in the NHS, and called for Sir William's resignation.

A spokesman for the NHS south east regional office told BBC News Online: "Its important that we communicate with trusts and health authorities, and its important we meet the waiting list target set by the government, which is obviously there for the benefit of patients."

He said some trusts were not meeting the targets.

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See also:

05 Mar 01 | Health
Waiting lists jump 4,500
06 Feb 01 | Health
Hospital waiting lists rise
31 Jan 01 | Health
Elderly face huge bed waits
11 Jan 01 | Health
Waiting lists cut again
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