Wednesday, July 22, 1998 Published at 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Dobson hails waiting list fall
Waiting lists have fallen by 21,000 in a month
Waiting lists for NHS treatment in England have fallen by 21,000 in a month, Health Secretary Frank Dobson has disclosed.
The fall is the first step to achieving the government's promise to reduce waiting lists to below the level they inherited from the Tories by next April, and by a further 100,000 by the end of the parliament.
Mr Dobson made his announcement to a health select committee in the House of Commons.
He said the fall occurred between the end of May and the end of June.
It is understood waiting lists rose by 10,000 in April and then levelled out in May.
Latest official figures for the end of March this year showed that waiting lists were at an all time high of 1.29 million and had increased by 35,700 compared with the previous quarter.
"At the end of June, there had been a fall of 21,000 in the number of people waiting compared with the end of May.
"This confirms what I said in the House that waiting lists are coming down."
He added while these figures were not yet validated, this normally made little difference.
Official figures for the first quarter of 1998 will be published in August.
Mr Dobson called for waiting list figures to be published on a monthly basis rather than every quarter as at present.
He told the committee: "These figures are not published for management purposes. We need figures that we can make use of."
Robert Walter MP (Conservative, North Dorset) suggested that waiting times were more important than the number of people on waiting lists.
In response, Mr Dobson said: "No matter how relatively unimportant an operation may be, people should not wait more than 18 months.
"The drive to get rid of 18-month waiters has reduced the number of people who waited more than 12 months."
When asked by chair of the committee David Hinchliffe (Labour, Wakefield) if there was any evidence that patients with minor ailments were being treated at the expense of patients in greater need, Mr Dobson said he had not received information on any specific cases.
He added that the NHS had been issued official guidance that patients in the greatest need should be seen first.