Quick Guide: Health issues

Hospital waiting


Reducing waiting lists was a key 1997 Labour election pledge, and after a peak in mid-1998 they fell to a record low in 2004.

But in 2000 Labour was forced to turn its attention to waiting times after being accused of ignoring the most urgent cases to drive down numbers.

Nearly all people are seen within six months now, compared to 125,000 waiting over nine months five years ago.

Critics say more people are waiting in the medium term - the average wait has risen by five days since 1999.



Patient choice


Patients are being promised choice about where they are treated

All the main parties are offering patients a choice of where and how they have their treatment.

Labour promises a choice of four or five hospitals by next year while the Liberal Democrats are offering a choice of any consultant, if cost effective.

The Tories say they will give the choice of any hospital with the option of 50% of the NHS cost to go private - a policy Labour says will cost 1.2bn.

GPs will be pivotal in helping patients navigate the NHS and make their choice.



Staff numbers


Increasing capacity is the key to providing more choice in the NHS.

Doctor and nurse numbers have gone up by more than 15% each in the last five years.

In 1999 there were 95,000 doctors, but by 2004 the number was 117,000. Over the same period nurse levels rose from 329,600 to 397,515.

However, the Tories have attacked the 30% jump in NHS managers to 112,593 as unnecessary bureaucracy.

Doctors' leaders warn thousands more surgeons and GPs are needed to keep the NHS going over the next five years.



Heart disease and cancer


Tackling heart disease and cancer have been made two of the main priorities for the NHS by the government.

The official plans were both set out in 2000, promising better treatment, diagnosis and fewer deaths.

It looks like the 2010 mortality rate target for heart disease will be met, but the rate has been falling for 30 years mainly due to lifestyle factors.

On cancer, more people are surviving but the UK is still well below the European average.



Investment


In 2002 the government announced a record five-year spending programme to bring the UK up to European levels.

By 2008 NHS funding will stand at 105.6bn, up from 65.4bn at the time of the review.

But the opposition parties have been quick to accuse Labour of wasting cash and not getting value for money.

An Office for National Statistics study published in October 2004 found that NHS productivity had fallen by 8% in eight years.



Public health


Ministers are planning to introduce junk food advertising curbs

The NHS is a national sickness service battling to cope with the growing public health crisis.

The government acted in November, publishing a white paper which included a series of measures to tackle smoking, binge drinking and obesity.

A partial smoking ban, curbs on junk food advertising and food labelling were all proposed.

The Tories want a voluntary ban agreed with industry, while the Lib Dems want a total ban on smoking in public places.