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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 18:50 GMT
Blair pledges NHS surgery choice
Patients can wait months for surgery on the NHS
Patients in London waiting six months for an operation are to be offered treatment at an alternative hospital from this summer.

The scheme will be extended to patients in the rest of England by summer 2004.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister Tony Blair in a keynote speech to Labour Party supporters on Thursday.

From summer next year, these choices will be offered to all elective surgery patients nationwide

Tony Blair,
Prime Minister
Ministers had already indicated that patients waiting more than six months for surgery will be offered the choice of going elsewhere.

However, Mr Blair's announcement represents a rapid acceleration of the programme.

The policy is based on a scheme for heart patients currently running in the capital.

Pilot scheme

It allows patients who have been waiting for cardiac surgery for at least six months to go to another hospital in the NHS or in the private sector for treatment.

According to the government, half of those who were eligible have opted for faster care.

Mr Blair said the extension of the scheme was about offering patients choice.

"The over-riding principle is clear. We should give poorer patients...the same range of choices the rich have always enjoyed," he said.

Mr Blair indicated that extending the scheme in London will mean that most patients will qualify. "[It will] cover almost all elective surgery."

But he added: "From summer next year, these choices will be offered to all elective surgery patients nationwide."

Mr Blair repeated his commitment to modernise the NHS.

"The NHS has for over half a century provided superb care and treatment to millions.

"But to succeed at a time of unprecedented demands on medicine, and on the capacity of healthcare systems to recognise individual needs, the NHS has to be reconstructed for the modern age.

"By ending 'one size fits all' in the NHS we mean making it easier for primary care and hospitals to respond to different needs and preferences of patients."

The prime minister defended the government's plans to free top-rated trusts from Whitehall control and the decision to raise National Insurance rates by 1p to fund extra health spending.

"This April, 1p will go on National Insurance to pay for the health service - to pay for more hospitals, nurses, doctors, scanners and operations in every community in the country. That I believe is money well spent," he said.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Gill Higgins
"A revolution has begun and it is gathering speed"
  Dr Edwin Borman, BMA's Consultant's Committee
"Tax payer's money is going to be going abroad"
See also:

02 Oct 02 | Health
30 Jun 02 | Health
23 Jan 03 | Health
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