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"More resources are needed for the NHS"
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Friday, 10 March, 2000, 11:51 GMT
NHS waiting lists up again

Hospital waiting lists in England rose by 10,700 in January to 1,118,700, according to official figures.

The number of people waiting more than a year for treatment on the NHS also rose, by 2,400 to 53,700, in the first month of this year.

And 96 patients had waited more than the 18-month maximum set down by the Government.

The relatively small increase in the in-patient waiting lists is evidence that hospitals successfully coped with the severe flu outbreak

John Denham, Health Minister
The latest rise follows a jump of 36,000, or 3.4%, in December.

The rise has been blamed on an upsurge of flu cases in the winter months which forced hospitals to cancel non-urgent surgery.

The government has pledged to cut waiting lists to 100,000 below the level inherited from the Tories by the next election.

Last November it was within 8,000 of reaching that target when the winter intervened and the lists began to rise.

The figures published today mean they must slash queues by around 40,000 by the end of this parliament in order to meet that pledge.

Health Minister John Denham said: "The relatively small increase in the in-patient waiting lists is evidence that hospitals successfully coped with the severe flu outbreak and the highest level of acute bronchitis infections in the elderly in 15 years.

"Effective planning and staff's hard work means hospitals are now getting back to normal and resuming elective surgery.

"We are expecting to see a fall in in-patient waiting lists in February and March."

Doctors' response

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said: "We are going to expect seasonal fluctuations in waiting lists and we know the health service was under an awful lot of pressure during the winter.

"But the danger is that if you keep focusing on the upward and downward blips, you lose sight of the fact that it is the time that people wait which is important.

"We would continue to urge the Government to make waiting times the focus rather than becoming obsessively preoccupied with the ups and downs of waiting lists and the manifesto pledge with which they have saddled themselves."

It is quite clear that New Labour put politics before patients

Dr Liam Fox, Shadow Health Secretary
Shadow health secretary Liam Fox said there were now 200,000 more patients waiting for treatment than when Labour came to power, because of the Government's "incompetence".

He said: "To rub salt into the NHS's wounds, the government is diverting funds from patient care into making the health service euro-compliant, feeding the Prime Minister's obsession with scrapping the pound.

"The public will rightly wonder what sort of warped priorities the Government actually has. It is quite clear that New Labour put politics before patients."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Peter Brand called on the Government to abandon its waiting list target and concentrate NHS resources on clinical need.

"This dramatic rise clearly demonstrates how staff and bed shortages have stretched the NHS's capacity beyond limits.

"That the flu outbreak wiped out more than half the Government's claimed progress on waiting lists shows just how meaningless their policy is."

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See also:

15 Feb 00 | Health
Waiting lists leap by 3.4%
29 Nov 99 | Health
Hospital waiting lists fall
17 Nov 99 | Health
Call to scrap waiting lists
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