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Sunday, October 17, 1999 Published at 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK


Milburn tackles 'big killers'

Cancer patients: Less waiting before seeing a specialist

Heart disease, cancer and mental health are to be targeted in a new government initiative led by the new Health Secretary Alan Milburn.

"We need to modernise every aspect of NHS treatment starting with the big three killers," he said.

In response, the Conservatives have called for Labour to abandon its key election pledge to reduce overall waiting lists, which include patients with comparatively minor illnesses.

Labour has said it will cut them by 100,000 patients.

The BBC's John Pienaar: "Heart disease and cancer are still the two biggest killlers facing the NHS"
Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said Mr Milburn was "stuck with the government's pledge on waiting lists, which Prime Minister Tony Blair is too arrogant to admit he got wrong".

"He is being left to try to do two different things within one budget," Dr Fox added.

The British Medical Association said tackling both waiting lists and the big three killers would be difficult given current NHS resources.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, Dr Peter Hawker, chair of the BMA's consultants' committee, said: "If it's part of a longer term co-ordinated plan I think over a few years we can achieve everything.

"But we can't do it quickly, we can't do it on a one off."

Mr Milburn is expected to introduce new target waiting times for heart patients and cancer sufferers, to improve results in tackling these diseases.

[ image: Alan Milburn says he will not go back on election promises]
Alan Milburn says he will not go back on election promises
Although he said the waiting list pledge would be met, he added it was more important to prioritise treatment for the most seriously ill, rather than cutting lists including comparatively minor ailments.

But The Observer says he is abandoning the original initiative to cut waiting lists, which is currently about 30,000 short of the target.

The health secretary has summoned 12 of the country's leading heart surgeons to his office on Monday morning for a searching appraisal of the strategy to tackle heart disease.

He wants what is being described as a step-change in the performance of the NHS in tackling a disease that kills around 260,000 people each year.

Mr Milburn is also expected to consider a new policy that no suspected cancer sufferer should wait more than two weeks to see a specialist after being referred by their GP.

Labour sources denied that Mr Milburn's comments implied criticism of his predecessor Frank Dobson.

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