Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
£50m to boost heart surgery
The government wants to increase the number of operations
The government has allocated £50m to improve heart treatment on the NHS in a step that marks a shift in emphasis in its health policy.
On Monday, Health Secretary Alan Milburn outlined specfic targets on heart disease.
He said the government wanted to increase the number of heart operations on the NHS by 10% over the next two years by "making maximum use of the cardiac capacity that currently exists".
It also planned to appoint an extra 330 cardiology consultants and 80 heart surgeons in England by 2005.
The announcement came after Mr Milburn met 12 senior heart surgeons and doctors, including Professor George Alberti, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chairman of the group drawing up a blueprint for heart care in the future.
"The announcement fits in with the soon-to-be-published National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease, which is a long-term programme to improve care for patients with heart problems across the whole spectrum of care - from primary prevention to rehabilitation.
Dr Peter Hawker, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants' committee, said it was right to focus on heart disease, but pointed out that the extra 400 specialists were already in training.
"It is also important to bear in mind that if we increase the number of front line heart specialists, we will also need a boost in pathology, radiology and anaesthetic services to support expansion."
The British Heart Foundation also welcomed the government's moves, but said the new strategy would need to look beyond improvements in surgery alone.
A spokeswoman said: "Primary prevention, with health education from an early age, along with effective secondary prevention and cardiac rehabilitation, is vital to reduce the number of people developing heart disease and provide a brighter future for those already affected."
Waiting list initiative
The government's change of emphasis also sparked a political row, with the opposition suggesting Labour had given up on its pledge to cut waiting lists.
But Mr Milburn said: "We will meet the waiting list pledge by the election, but that's just a start.
"We need to modernise every aspect of National Health Service treatment, starting with the big killers of heart disease, cancer and mental health."
Next week the Health Secretary will launch a review of NHS cancer services.
Dr John Toy, charity director the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said the emphasis on cancer was welcome but warned that referring all suspected sufferers to a specialist within two weeks could prove counterproductive.
"A two-week referral period could slow the treatment of those patients who actually have cancer because many non-cancer patients are likely to be referred for an urgent opinion."