Monday, September 6, 1999 Published at 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
£10m to cut cancer waits
Patients with suspected cancer will be prioritised
The government is spending £10m to make sure all patients with suspected cancer wait no more than a fortnight to see a specialist.
The millions will be spent preparing GPs and hospital doctors for the change.
Announcing the policy at Downing Street, Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "Delivering on this new cancer waiting standard will be a challenge for the NHS. We are publishing new guidelines to help health authorities and trusts prepare for this improved service."
A £30m fund has already been set aside to tackling the increasing length of time patients in general are waiting to see a hospital consultant for the first time.
Tough checks on lists
Mr Blair praised the efforts of NHS staff to drive down outpatient waiting times, adding that there were still areas in which the service had "a way to go".
He unveiled a tough monitoring regime to pick out hospitals with the longest outpatient waits.
The Prime Minister said there were four specialities where waiting times were a particular problem - orthopaedics, ear, nose and throat, ophthalmology and dermatology.
Mr Blair said: "When you ask people what they think is wrong with the NHS, what tops the list every time is the amount of time spent waiting.
"Most people are happy with their treatment when they receive it, but get frustrated with the length of time they have to wait.
"It is clear that we need to monitor our performance on outpatients as rigorously as on inpatients."
Peter Homa, who will be a director of hospital inspectorate the Commission for Health Improvement, has been given responsibility for keeping waiting lists down.
The £30m "Outpatients' Performance Fund", will be predominantly spent on additional outpatient clinics, new medical equipment, extra staff and modernisation of GP services.
It could be used to encourage more clinics operated by nurses instead of doctors.
It comes on top of £20m allocated last week to computerise outpatient appointment booking by GPs.
Last week, the health department confirmed that patients were dropped from a hospital waiting list to meet government targets.
A hospital manager was suspended at King George Hospital, Redbridge, East London, following allegations that 84 patients waiting for orthopaedic surgery were "inappropriately suspended" from the waiting list.
He said: "We want to all clinically urgent problems dealt with rapidly, and we welcome the focus on a condition such as cancer which undoubtedly causes patients great anxiety.
"But we don't want the prioritising of cancer to be to the detriment of patients suffering from non-malignant but equally life-threatening conditions."
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Evan Harris MP said: "Outpatient waiting lists have risen because the Government forced hospitals to take resources from outpatients to pay for in-patients."
"Will the new initiative see a further policy flip-flop or will cancer and mental health budgets be raided instead?"
In total, cancers cause about 156,000 deaths in the UK every year. Lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancers account for nearly half of all cancer deaths.
The government's public health strategy aims to reduce the death rate from cancer for people under 75 by a fifth by the year 2010.