The national health service is continuing to make huge progress in providing faster access to hospital care. In May 2000, 282,397 patients were waiting more than six months for hospital operations. That has now been reduced to just below 50,000 patients. By the end of this year, there will be no patients waiting more than six months for in-patient treatment.
Can I commend and congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress thus far on waiting lists? I welcome the target of 18 weeks for waiting lists, which is obviously very different from the position when the Tories were in power, when it was 18 months. Does my right hon. Friend agree that public accountability is central to public confidence? In that context, how does she propose to deal with hospitals that fail to meet their obligations vis-à-vis targets?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point about accountability. We are strengthening the accountability of NHS hospitals and other trusts to their local communities through the membership and governance structure of foundation trusts and other means for other NHS trusts. May I take the opportunity to congratulate Dewsbury and District hospital in my hon. Friend's constituency? I recently visited the hospital where, in direct response to requests from women in the community, a midwife-led midwifery unit is doing excellent work and has recently won a modernisation award.
What does the Secretary of State think will be the effect on waiting times for in-patient treatment in the New Forest and in Romsey if the cottage hospitals that are under threat of having their in-patient beds closed after a bogus consultation by the local primary care trust do in fact lose those beds? May I thank her for the response given by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Caroline Flint to the Adjournment debate on this subject last week, and ask her, on behalf of cross-party MPs from the New Forest and Romsey area, for a meeting to discuss this truly desperate situation?
I understand that a consultation is taking place and that a close look is being taken at how best to provide services, particularly for elderly patients, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and nearby. I will take the opportunity to have a look at the record of the Adjournment debate, which I have not seen, and I will ensure that he and his hon. Friends are seen, if not by me, then by one of my ministerial colleagues.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the progress that she has outlined on reductions in patient waiting times. Does she think that we would have made that progress had we allowed NHS funds to be diverted from the NHS to subsidise people to jump the queue and go private by adopting the Conservative proposal for a privatising patients' passport?
Order. We will leave that question alone. I call David Burrowes. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman has withdrawn his question.