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Government's waiting list promises "in tatters"

The Northern Echo’s latest update on its long-running A Chance to Live campaign revealed that Government promises to tackle hospital waiting lists were “in tatters” after a sharp rise in the numbers waiting more than a year for treatment.

Only weeks after Health Secretary, and Darlington MP, Alan Milburn launched his plan to improve the NHS, figures show that for some hospitals the situation is worse, not better, reported Echo journalist Mark Foster.

In South Tees, the numbers waiting more than a year shot up from 92 to 243, while in Newcastle they increased from 204 to 309. In North Durham the figure almost doubled from 37 to 72, and in Northallerton, which had nobody waiting more than a year in March, there are now 93.

The South Tees total includes 52 heart patients, where last year there was none. This follows a policy change to treat the more unstable cases sooner in the light of the Chance to Live campaign – launched after the Echo’s deputy chief photographer Ian Weir died while waiting for bypass surgery. The campaign aims to dramatically reduce waiting times for seriously-ill heart patients.

Chief officer of the local Community Health Council, Peter Johnson, told the Echo the waiting list figure was regrettable.

He said: “We don’t like it, but realistically we can’t see how they can achieve a zero long-term waiting list at the moment. More doctors, more nurses and more money. That’s the bottom line. It’s all about resources.”

In its editorial comment column, the Echo said: “In the long-term, the NHS appears to be in safe hands. In the short-term, however, prospects appear bleak.”

It added: “Promises of long-term solutions are no comfort, for example, to the 52 heart patients in the South Tees area who have been waiting for treatment for more than a year.

“Unless there are tangible improvements in the NHS over the next few months, this Government could well be held to account come the next General Election.”

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