A NHS surgeon today exposed how cash-strapped hospitals were being barred from operating on cancer patients who had not waited long enough.
Wayne Jaffe laid the blame for the appalling state of affairs at the feet of Tony Blair, with his vision of reduced waiting times and 24-hour surgery. In a withering assessment of the financial management of the health service, Mr Jaffe said that doctors were being restricted in getting waiting lists down by financial limitations and ever-changing targets.
The consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon, who specialises in skin cancer and breast reconstruction, said he and his colleagues are being prohibited from operating in non-urgent cases unless the patient has been waiting for a minimum of 20 weeks.
This is because the hospital would not get paid – even if the patient and staff were ready for the operation.
Mr Jaffe said the Prime Minister's pledge to have patients waiting no longer than 18 weeks between referral and treatment would be "impossible" unless more money was made available to primary care trusts.
He rubbished the Government's vision of 24-hour surgery, saying that after normal working hours only a skeleton staff was available.
"We are trying to do what the Prime Minister wants us to do but we cannot do it properly because there is no money," he said.
"Waiting lists will only go up if, as is the case, doctors cannot perform operations unless the patient has been waiting for more than 20 weeks. It's absurd."
Mr Jaffe, who works at the University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust, said the 20-week ruling was a "global issue" within the NHS and not just a problem at UHNS. He claimed that he was unable to fill his evening lists because of the 20-week constraint, and that patients were having to wait longer to be seen than necessary.
He said: "Doctors across the country are talking about the same thing and it's happening everywhere."