Health ministers at war over waiting times

Labour claims Government is 'going backwards' under Tories

Claims by the Labour party that waiting times have risen under the coalition government amount to "ludicrous scaremongering" according to the Health Secretary.

In a speech to the Labour party conference today, shadow health secretary John Healey accused David Cameron of breaking NHS promises, which included a pledge to keep waiting times low.

"People are starting to see the NHS go backwards again with the Tories," he said. "Services cut; treatments denied; long waiting times up.

"We’ve seen over a million patients suffer long waits for treatment under David Cameron, breaking Labour’s guarantees to patients."

The Government immediately refuted the claims, pointing out that average hospital waiting times have come down since the general election. In May 2010, the average hospital waiting time was 8.4 weeks. The latest data for July 2011 shows that this has been reduced to 8.2 weeks.

Statistics also show, however, that the number of people waiting longer than 18 weeks has risen by a third in a year, to 28,000.

Evidence of cuts in services and restrictions on access to service has been reported in recent months but has been attributed to the pressure on the NHS to achieve £20bn of efficiency savings by 2015 - a challenge that both parties agree must be met if the NHS is to survive in the current "cold" funding climate.

The shadow health secretary used his speech to oppose the "betrayal of our NHS" via the Health and Social Care Bill, which he claimed would "break up the NHS as a 'national' health service and set it up as a full-scale market, ruled for the first time by the full force of competition law."

He warned that the reforms would pave the way for the entry of companies with a financial incentive to bring in more patients, rather than collaborate with other providers to cut admissions.

"There has always been and will be in the future an important contribution for non-NHS providers – including private providers – towards better health care, to supplement not substitute for the NHS," he said. "But let me say now, hospitals are at the heart of our NHS; they should be in public not private hands; dedicated totally to patients, not profits."

Labour's approach to NHS reform would include developing integrated care organisations to allow primary, secondary and social care to work together, he said.

The Government has repeatedly denied that its reforms amount to privatising the NHS and argues that opening up the NHS to greater competition will drive up the quality of care. 


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