When I was first elected to represent Bedford and Kempston in 1997, a regular feature of my postbag then and for some years thereafter was people asking for help because of the consequences of excessive hospital waiting—the pain, the living in distress and the time off work. Many people were driven to the private sector. If that goes too far, it undermines the principles of the NHS. That is the way it was nine years ago. Today, I hardly ever have such a case brought to me by a constituent. People acknowledge that there has been a real improvement in waiting times. The Conservative party must hope for a national collective outbreak of amnesia on this point if it is to make progress with its claim to be the true party of the NHS.
The Government have even more ambitions than their achievement so far. The plan is that, by the end of 2008, the overall maximum wait in the NHS will be 18 weeks. That is from GP to operation, including diagnostics, and that has never been attempted before. In practice, for many interventions, that will mean an in-patient treatment wait of seven or eight weeks, which will truly revolutionise the NHS.