NHS ‘improves’ access to care

The number of NHS critical care beds has increased by 42 per cent in seven years, the latest figures from the Department of Health show.

Critical care beds numbered 3,359 in January 2007, a 42 per cent increase from the 2,362 in January 2000. This figure includes 1,485 high dependency beds, an 84 per cent rise on January 2000.

Today’s figures follow the prime minister’s defence of the health service’s bed cuts. This week Conservative leader David Cameron accused the government of overseeing 9,000 bed cuts in the NHS.

Mr Blair argued that some beds had been cut because of improved surgery techniques and a revised approach to treatment, but the number of critical care beds has increased.

Waiting lists have also fallen, today’s figures show. In January 2007, 774,000 people were waiting for out patient treatment, down 2,000 on the previous month and 384,000 since 1997.

Health Minister Andy Burnham said: “There are lots of people who like to knock the NHS. But despite financial difficulties in a minority of organisations and allegations of bed cuts, go slows and operations being cancelled, evidence shows the NHS is delivering top-class care for patients.

“Investment, reform and the hard work of NHS staff are delivering the fastest access to care for patients, and they should be congratulated. The NHS has slashed waiting times and given patients the kind of certainty about their treatment that even up to a few years ago was not thought possible.

The NHS also exceeded the operational standard on cancer waiting times last month, with 96.3 per cent of patients treated within two months of urgent GP referral.

There were 2191 fewer operations cancelled and 95 per cent of these were re-scheduled within 28 days of the original date, compared to 92 per cent last year.

Mr Burnham said this is one of the best performances since records began in 1994, adding: “The distress and inconvenience caused by a cancelled operation or cancer waits means that work to reduce this further should remain a priority of all hospital trusts.”