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Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK


Patient dies after appeal to Blair

Mr Weir had high hopes the day Labour came to power

A man who died from a heart attack had written to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, only months before expressing his frustration at his lengthy wait for an operation.

Health Secretary Frank Dobson: "We are reconsidering our policy"
Ian Weir, who was 38 and a father of two sons signed his letter "A life-long Labour supporter - but how much longer will I be alive?"

Mr Weir, from Darlington, County Durham, wrote to Mr Blair in February. He died on June 1 after suffering his second heart attack - and just one day before he was due to see a consultant.

[ image: Alan Milburn MP: Received letter]
Alan Milburn MP: Received letter
The newspaper photographer had been put on a waiting list to see the consultant at South Cleveland Hospital in Middlesborough after his first attack in November 1998.

Mr Weir, who worked for The Northern Echo regional morning paper also wrote to his GP and his local MP, Alan Milburn.

His wife said her husband was a firm believer in the National Health Service and was reluctant to have the operation carried out privately.

She told The Northern Echo: "He just didn't believe in it. He just felt the more people who went private, the less resources there would be for the NHS."

'Britain will change now'

Mr James Johnson: "Waiting lists can be fatal"
Mrs Weir said that when Labour came to power Mr Weir had said he believed society would become more caring.

"Ian had been brought up on the Labour Party," she said. "He was overjoyed the night they won the General Election ... I remember him saying to me 'Britain will change now - it will be a more caring society. People will count'.

"Then we see millions being spent on the Millennium Dome - what happened to our sense of priorities?"

Mrs Weir added: "He could have had his operation, gone back to work and contributed to the system. I can't help feeling his death is just a senseless waste of a human life. Where's the sense in it all?" The Prime Minister's agent John Burton, who replied to the letter, took up Mr Weir's case with the hospital.

Consultant surgeon Simon Kendall told The Northern Echo there was no evidence to say that Mr Weir was anymore ill than other people on the list.

Terrible tragedy

[ image: Mr James Johnson:
Mr James Johnson: "This is a terrible tragedy"
Mr James Johnson, chairman of the Joint Consultants Committee, which represents the British Medical Association and the medical royal colleges, said: "It is a terrible tragedy and it shows that waiting lists are not just a nuisance, they are - depending on what the condition is that one is waiting for - potentially very serious and can be fatal.

"I don't think this is the first case that a patient waiting for heart bypass surgery has not made it because the waiting list was too long."

Mr Johnson said the case emphasised the folly of the government's policy of simply counting the number of people on waiting lists, rather than prioritising those with more serious conditions.

Health Secretary Frank Dobson said the government was now looking at a "more sophisticated approach" to looking at the concept of people having to wait for treatment.

"But it is partly always going to be dependent on the individual clinical judgement of the individual doctors concerned," he said.

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