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Labour would end wait for cancer surgery

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7061.838 (Published 05 October 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:838

A no wait commitment for cancer surgery was pledged by the Labour party this week at its annual conference in Blackpool, the last before a general election that could give Britain a Labour government next year. Health spokesman Chris Smith said that the pledge would be funded by savings of £100m ($150m) made by cutting NHS bureaucracy, which Labour estimates could reduce waiting lists by 100 000.

But Mr Jim Johnson, a vascular surgeon and chairman of the BMA's Central Consultants and Specialists Committee, said that an attack on waiting lists should be a low priority and there were more important issues to be tackled such as access to medical emergency beds. “By and large cancer patients don't have to wait too long on the NHS at the moment. Where there is a problem it is caused by the government's waiting list initiative, which may mean that trivial cases such as tattoo removal are put before more urgent cases.”

Mr Smith made two other announcements about Labour's plans for occupational health and patient rehabilitation. Talks with employers and trade unions would lead to an agreed plan for improving health at work so as to reduce the incidence of stress, exhaustion, repetitive strain injury, back injury, and other work related illness.

On hospital discharge, his worry was about patients being forced out of hospital too early only to return a week or two later. It helped government statistics on throughput but was a crisis for the patient. He proposed to look urgently at the problem and suggested that cottage hospitals could be used to allow patients to recuperate properly and release acute beds.

Mr Smith said that the NHS would be the defining difference between Labour and the Conservatives at the general election. It would be Labour's historic task to rescue and renew the NHS. It would restore a national framework for pay determination and promote health by tackling poverty and deprivation.

Mr Smith also renewed a pledge to ban tobacco advertising and said that a Labour government will end the competitive internal market in the health service. “We'll replace fundholding with a system of GP commissioning—bringing together the GPs, health authority, and hospitals to decide together what patterns of care and treatment local people are going to need,” he said.

* Liberal Democrats at their conference in Brighton last week proposed to create a health fund of £350m by taxing benefits in kind, such as gold bars or life insurance, paid to company executives. The fund would be used to recruit staff and reduce the maximum waiting time to six months. The plan was cast into doubt, however, when Treasury officials pointed out that most benefits in kind, including gold bars, were already taxed.—JOHN WARDEN, parliamentary correspondent, BMJ

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