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The BBC's James Westhead
"Ministers hope to get dramatic results quickly"
 real 56k

Mike Stone, director of the Patients Association
"Very disappointing figures"
 real 56k

Monday, 7 August, 2000, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
Failing hospitals 'named and shamed'
Aintree University Hospital
Aintree Hospitals Trust was one of those named
Government "action teams" are to be sent into seven hospital trusts after figures revealed severe waiting list problems.

On Monday, ministers took the unprecedented step of publishing their names as part of what they call a "war on waiting".

The announcement coincided with another set of disappointing nationwide waiting list figures.

The seven trusts named are:

  • Aintree Hospitals
  • Dudley Group of Hospitals
  • Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals
  • Leeds Teaching Hospitals
  • Plymouth Hospitals
  • Southend Hospital
  • Worcester

Staff from the government's "National Patient Access Team" will visit all seven this week and draw up a recovery plan, expecting "dramatic improvements" within six months.

Health Minister Lord Hunt said that 40m of the extra money for the NHS announced in the Budget earlier this year would be allocated to improve waiting times.

Up to 13m will be given to trusts who have spare capacity to do more outpatient work, and 27m targeted at specialties with long waiting times, such as cataract surgery, orthopaedics, ear nose and throat and dermatology.

The latest waiting list figures show that while lists for inpatient procedures and operations continued to fall in June, 42,000 more people were waiting more than 13 weeks for their first outpatient appointment in April, May and June.

Waiting list figures
Total number waiting for inpatient treatment in June 1,048,000 (down 5,000)
Patients waiting more than 13 weeks for outpatient appointment rose by 42,880 across April, May and June to 444,000
Patients waiting more than 26 weeks for outpatient appointment fell by 1,888 across April, May, June
One patient reported as waiting longer than 18 months for inpatient treatment in June
This is compared with a 94,000 fall in the same figure during the previous quarter.

So while the government has a firm grip on its targets for waiting times for inpatient operations - only one person was waiting more than the absolute maximum of 18 months - the outpatient appointment waiting lists are more troublesome.

Lord Hunt said: "The public's top concern about the NHS is waiting for treatment.

"The outpatients rise has to be tackled with immediate action. This increase is far too high."

But opposition spokesman Philip Hammond said: "Morale is at an all time low - this approach of naming and shaming and sending in hit squads is the very opposite of good management."

The government claims that the National Patient Access Team has already allowed some hospitals to make noticeable improvements.

Four trusts visited by the team have cut their outpatient waiting times following large rises the previous quarter.

Trusts respond

A statement from Aintree Hospitals Trust blamed much of the rise on its own patients failing to turn up for their appointments - 2,771 in all between April and June.

It added that a bid for government modernisation money for a computerised appointment booking system had not been successful.

Morale is at an all time low - this approach of naming and shaming and sending in hit squads is the very opposite of good management

Philip Hammond, Conservative health spokesman
Worcester Hospitals Trust said that it had suffered a large increase in demand for appointments in recent months.

Its chairman Harold Musgrove said: "We welcome the support of the patient access team and any help it can give us, but in the meantime we have already taken steps to address the problem."

John Yarnold, from Plymouth Hospitals Trust said that its waiting list difficulties had been "well documented".

The outpatient problems arose, he said, as the trust spent the early part of the year trying to tackle a large number of patients waiting for inpatient treatment.

"We have been working with hospital doctors and GPs to increase our outpatient capacity, and improve our services."

The number waiting more than 13 weeks for outpatient appointments had already begun to fall again, he said.

A spokesman for the Patients Association said: "It is the waiting times that we and patients are really concerned about.

"It is unacceptable that people are waiting so long to see a consultant after being referred by their GP.

"They are waiting a long time, often in pain, and are confused about what waiting list they are on."

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See also:

16 Jan 00 | Health
Blair pledges health cash boost
17 Jan 00 | Health
The New NHS: Fit for the future?
07 Aug 00 | Health
'Use lottery cash for the NHS'
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