Friday, July 3, 1998 Published at 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
Six year wait for varicose vein patient
Hard pressed hospitals have to prioritise patients
A chauffeur was told that he would have to wait at least six years for an operation on what his doctor suspects are varicose veins.
Tony Thompson, of Nell Lane, Withington, Manchester, only managed to get a referral to another hospital after the intervention of Shadow Health Secretary Anne Widdecombe forced the government to act.
Mr Thompson said the date he had originally been given actually fell about four years after the hospital concerned, Withington Hospital, was due to close.
The relevation comes just days after the government triumphantly announced waiting lists were beginning to fall, and after Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged a massive cash injection to modernise the health service.
"I can see this hospital from our front windows. It's disgusting," said Mr Thompson.
"This condition is causing me a lot of pain, and I have had to be off work for 12 months on account of it."
After he was told of the wait, Mr Thompson, 60, contacted several other hospitals in the region, and found that waiting times were as little as two or three months for the same operation.
"I was not impressed that I had to contact the other hospitals myself," he said.
"I did it not only for myself, but also for the hundreds of other people who probably get a letters like mine, and just throw them away without doing anything about it."
Department of Health officials have confirmed that Mr Thompson will now be referred to another hospital within five miles of his home, and should be seen within eight weeks.
Health Secretary Frank Dobson said: "This is obviously a ludicrous situation which has been put right as soon as it came to the attention of ministers and the NHS executive."
When told of the decision, Mr Thompson said: "That's marvellous ... that's brilliant. I was expecting to be in pain for another six years ..."
Mockery of government pledges
"This is the second time the department have intervened when we have revealed scandals. So I would encourage everyone to let me know of their problems and presumably Mr Dobson will sort them out straight away."
"We were trying to show that some small operations, like those for varicose veins, appeared to be virtually disappearing from the National Health Service, but the Government denied this.
"Mr Dobson, is going to Manchester on Sunday to mark the 50th birthday of the National Health Service. So he will have his own error about such operations thrown back at him," she added.
Jane Herbert, chief executive of South Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "Our vascular consultants deal with a wide range of clinical conditions, some of which are life threatening, cancer related and very complex.
"All patient referrals are screened and appointments given according to clinical priority. Urgent referrals are given appointments well within national guidelines.
"Patients with less urgent conditions, such as varicose veins as in this case, current have to wait an unacceptable length of time for a first out-patient appointment.
"We are reviewing this situation as a matter of urgency and are looking at ways to reduce the waiting time by, for example introducing dedicated out-patient clinics and day case lists."
A Department of Health spokesman said officials were aware the patient had been asked to wait an "unacceptable" length of time.
"We need to see what the hospital inquiry turns up when looking at why this was the case," he said.