£8bn Extra For NHS This Year Will Cut Waiting Times, Says Hewitt

An £8bn increase in NHS spending in England this year will buy 390,000 extra operations, 400,000 more outpatient appointments and a new outreach service to help thousands of vulnerable people with long-term medical conditions such as diabetes and asthma, Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, said yesterday.

The biggest-ever hike in health spending would dramatically reduce waiting times. By the end of next March, 85% of patients needing hospital treatment will have been admitted within 18 weeks of referral by a GP. Ninety per cent of those patients who can be treated without admission to hospital will get the care they need within the same deadline.

Ms Hewitt said: “A lot of people like to knock the NHS and say all the money has gone on deficits. It hasn’t. The NHS is now back in balance and delivering … the lowest waits on record, as well as providing a level of care that 10 years ago was only offered to those who could afford it.”

Other priorities over the next 11 months will include building up a squad of 3,000 community matrons to treat 220,000 long-term patients in their homes, avoiding the need for repeated visits to hospital.

Ms Hewitt admitted mistakes last year when the NHS annouced plans to close facilities that were cherished by local communities. In a wide-ranging briefing for journalists, she said: “In some parts of the country proposals were rushed forward almost as a knee-jerk reaction to financial problems, even though the timetable [for cuts] could not produce savings within the financial year.”

In future, proposals for reorganising services would not proceed until they were properly checked by the strategic health authority to establish whether local doctors and nurses were willing to argue the case for them.

Ms Hewitt said results of a survey of 2 million patients would provide evidence next month on the performance of every GPs’ practice in England.

For the first time she gave public support for a proposal to write an NHS constitution, which Mr Brown is widely expected to adopt when in No 10.