Tuesday, July 6, 1999 Published at 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Waiting lists move upwards
Hospital waiting lists are edging back up
The number of people waiting to be admitted to hospital rose slightly between April and May, according to government figures.
By the end of May, some 3,500 more people - a 0.3% increase - were waiting to go into English hospitals than at the end of April.
Some 1,096,100 people are still waiting to be admitted, but the government says the figures represent a 16.2% drop on the same period last year.
The number waiting over a year has also gone up - by 200 or 0.5%.
Some 48,300 have waited over 12 months for admission, but this is 18,900 lower than in March 1998.
No patient has waited more than 18 months.
The government made reducing waiting list times a major plank of its general election manifesto.
Earlier this year, it met a promise to reduce the number of people on waiting lists by 100,000 on figures inherited in May 1997.
But since April, the numbers have been creeping up again.
In April, Health Secretary Frank Dobson blamed staff taking breaks after the winter crisis for the slight increase in numbers.
But doctors said a shortage of staff and beds was the cause.
They say the government should address the amount of time people are waiting for admission, rather than the overall number waiting - plus the seriousness of their condition.
On Wednesday, the British Medical Association will debate waiting list initiatives at its annual conference in Belfast.
It is expected to be critical of government policy.
Dr Liam Fox, the Shadow Health Secretary, said the rise in the waiting list showed that Britain's health was getting worse under Labour.
He said: "Mr Dobson tied to hide these figures behind the smokescreen of his carefully-timed statement on public health.
"He has been rumbled for the second-rate trickster that he has become.
For over two years now, Labour have fiddled the figures, distorted clinical priorities, caused morale among health professionals to plummet to an all-time low and worst of all, their politicisation of our health service has led to a deterioration in patient care."