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The proposed changes will focus the NHS on quality and the results that matter to patients-such as how successful their treatment was-and not just on bureaucratic processes such as waiting time targets. Waiting times are important to patients, along with the quality of their experience and outcomes, which will drive improvements in the future.
Well, what a revelation! I think that the Minister will find that the public do care about waiting times. Will he confirm that waiting times are already going up, that more people are already waiting more than 18 weeks-the maximum that we achieved when we were in government-and that the performance of accident and emergency departments has deteriorated since he watered down our A and E targets?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman either did not hear my earlier remarks or had penned his question prior to hearing them. What I said was that waiting times are important to patients-and if he looks at the record tomorrow, he will see that. May I also explain to him that the average median time for the latest month available-November-shows patients completing a referral to treatment pathway in about 8.3 weeks? The right hon. Gentleman's comments on A and E are just factually wrong and somewhat cheap.
There are concerns that some of the expertise of cancer networks might be lost because of the funding gap between the end of the Government's funding for the networks and the transition to full GP commissioning. Will the Government consider bridging this gap, at least until GP consortia are fully up and running-and therefore better able to make informed decisions about the commissioning of cancer network services?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend in view of the considerable interest he takes and work he does in this field of health care. Let me reassure him that we have guaranteed the funding for next year, so it can work itself out to a successful conclusion thereafter through the cancer networks in the commissioning plans.
Under Labour, hospital waiting times were at a record low and satisfaction with the NHS in its current form was at a record high. Over the last few months, however-no matter how much the Secretary of State does not like it-we have seen more and more operations cancelled or postponed at our hospitals. A number of nurses in my constituency have written to tell me that they are short staffed. One of them pointed out that
"those who have left are not being replaced".
Is that not the true picture of what is going on in the NHS at the moment? If the Minister is confident in his Secretary of State's plans for the NHS, will he guarantee that under those plans, hospital waiting times will not rise-or is he going to duck the question like the Prime Minister did last week?
Under these reforms, by concentrating on raising quality and outcomes, we will give improved quality health care for patients. What I can guarantee is that under these reforms, when implemented, people will not only get improved quality treatment but will see times based on clinical decisions rather than being distorted by political processes.