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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March, 2005, 19:14 GMT
Tories 'using op case as stunt'
Margaret Dixon
Mrs Dixon praised hospital staff, but says the system failed her
The health secretary says he will not visit an OAP who claims she had her operation cancelled seven times until Tory officials leave her house.

John Reid said he wanted to talk to Margaret Dixon, but did not want to be dragged into a Tory "political stunt".

The Tories said its officials were helping Mrs Dixon deal with the media interest that followed Michael Howard raising her case in the Commons.

Mr Reid said the case had made the NHS the key election battle-ground.

Mr Reid made the statement after visiting the hospital at the centre of the row, Warrington General which has a two-star rating.

We cannot begin to describe the distress we have all felt and are amazed this can happen in the NHS today
Dixon family letter

North Cheshire Hospitals NHS Trust have said her procedure had only been cancelled three times.

Mrs Dixon invited him to her home in Penketh, Cheshire, but there was some confusion about whether he would do so or just speak to her on the telephone.

But Mr Reid said the invite from Mrs Dixon, who needs a shoulder replacement but a high dependency bed to perform it, came from Conservative party officials.

He said hospital staff told him that patients who were in the specialist beds at the time when Mrs Dixon was supposed to have her operation had been seriously ill.

"One had a fractured skull, one had a fractured spine, one had a throat cancer operation and one had pneumonia. Now those are all pretty serious.

"While I have a great deal of sympathy for Mrs Dixon and I said sorry to her yesterday, I think it is right that priority is given on grounds of clinical need and decisions made by doctors and not by political intervention."

'Moral obligation'

Mrs Dixon's family met Mr Howard on Thursday, before delivering a letter to Downing Street urging the prime minister to "sort out" her case.

Tory Party spokesman for the North West of England Chris Davenport said he had spent the day at Mrs Dixon's home because "our parliamentary candidate Fiona Bruce set this running and we felt a moral obligation to help Mrs Dixon deal with the media enquiries she was getting.

"All we have been doing is meeting the press and media and trying to sort out queues for phone calls and interviews so Mrs Dixon can speak to people."

I personally had a very good experience with the NHS. This doesn't mean that the NHS is good as a whole though
Will, London

Mrs Dixon, who has osteoarthritis and needs an operation to rebuild her shoulder which she broke in August 2004, is a complicated case.

Warrington General Hospital says Mrs Dixon's operation was postponed three times.

Its chief executive Ian Dalton tried to avoid postponing operations, and regretted the distress caused, but that "seriously ill patients must always take priority over other, less urgent cases".

But on Wednesday Mrs Dixon was given a date for the operation and said she was "absolutely thrilled".

Lindsay and Ken Dixon
Mrs Dixon's family handed in a letter to Downing Street

Lib Dem health spokesman Paul Burstow said Labour had reduced hospital beds and presided over an increase in cancelled operations.

But he said the way Mr Howard had raised an individual case at the despatch box was "the most unseemly way to do it".

Margaret Dixon says her case is not isolated

Howard and Blair clash over NHS
02 Mar 05 |  Politics

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