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Last Updated: Friday, 12 November, 2004, 11:57 GMT
NHS waiting lists at 17-year low
Image of surgery
Waiting lists are at their lowest since 1987
NHS patient waiting lists in England have fallen to their lowest level for 17 years, government figures show.

At the end of September, 856,600 people were waiting for treatment - a fall of 4,500 from the previous month.

The 0.5% decrease also means waiting lists have fallen for nine months in a row - the first time that has happened.

Ministers praised the hard work of NHS staff but opposition parties said the lists did not show that waiting times overall had increased.

The last time waiting lists were this low was September 1987.

Overall, waiting lists have fallen by 300,000 since March 1997 while the number waiting for more than six months has fallen by 100,000 in the last year.

Waits

The number of patients waiting over nine months for treatment also fell, from 156 in August to 122 in September.

Of these, 19 patients were waiting longer than a year - down slightly from 21 in August.

Health Minister John Hutton said the achievement was down to the hard work of NHS staff and the extra investment by government.

What matters to patients is how long they wait in total
Paul Burstow

And he promised: "By 2008 no one will have to wait longer than 18 weeks from GP referral to hospital treatment and most people will experience much shorter waits, with even quicker access in priority areas such as cancer."

But Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley accused the government of being "all talk".

"The average time spent waiting for operations is higher.

"The targets have meant hospitals pushing patients through beds even when they should be closed for cleaning to get rid of infection.

'Hidden lists'

"The government's targets are a hindrance, not a help."

And Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow agreed.

"These figures do not show the whole truth. These claims will not ring true for those patients languishing on hidden waiting lists.

"Those waiting for tests and scans before they even get a diagnosis will greet this news with some scepticism.

"What matters to patients is how long they wait in total, from the time they visit their GP to the time they start their treatment.

"These figures do not show the total waits. Ministers must publish the full waits as soon as possible if their claims are to carry any credibility."




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