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Mr. Paterson: Does the Minister think that the measures that the Government have taken will be enough to prevent similar problems from occurring this winter if the incidence of flu is roughly what it was in 1999-2000?

Ms Stuart: We hope that, with the measures that we are taking, we will manage the extra pressures over the winter period even more efficiently than we did this year.

We have also put in place measures for patients who are referred urgently with suspected cancer. They should be seen by a specialist within two weeks of their GP referring them. Patients with coronary heart disease will also be able to get easier and faster access to treatment. That is often achieved by reconfiguring the way in which the services are run. In October last year, we announced £50 million to be used over the next two years to increase the number of heart operations by 3,000.

On 6 March, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the national service framework for coronary heart disease. He also announced a new £3 million plan to test the streamlining of cardiac services to provide better and faster services for patients in different parts of the country--for example, through one-stop diagnosis or re-engineering services to reduce waiting times and cancellations.

We are improving services for patients with suspected or diagnosed cancer through the cancer services collaborative. The programme, which is funded by £6 million over two years, aims to streamline and re-design services at nine cancer networks across the country.

The cancer services collaborative is already producing excellent results. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the Birmingham collaborative team have been able to cut the waiting time for oncology for patients with bowel cancer from 13 weeks to six weeks. We are encouraging the spread of the good practice developed by

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the Birmingham collaborative across the west midlands region. This year, we will be taking a similar approach to the cancer services collaborative for coronary heart disease.

We shall continue to ensure that clinical priority is the main determinant of when patients are treated. We have repeatedly made it clear that patients in the greatest need must continue to be treated first. We expect the NHS to implement this guidance in meeting its waiting list targets, and we have been absolutely clear about that. We have great expectations that those guidelines will be followed.

We want to modernise the NHS. That means re-designing the services that are crucial to patients. At a national level, the national booked admissions programme is part of our on-going commitment to modernising the health service. Through the use of booking systems, patients are able to agree dates that suit them, allowing them to make the necessary work and child care arrangements. The system also takes away the uncertainty of not knowing how long the wait will be. Booking means fewer operations cancelled by the hospital, and ensures that fewer patients fail to turn up for their appointments. The Royal Shrewsbury and Princess Royal hospitals in Shropshire were chosen to participate in the first wave of the national booked admissions programme, which began in November 1998. The trusts' work on booked admissions was supported by £195,000 in funding. A further project at the Princess Royal NHS trust to investigate different processes of care in delivering booked admissions will be funded until March 2001. We announced a third wave of the national booked admissions programme on 12 April, and we want every acute hospital to have such a programme eventually.

We want to bring down waiting lists and times and keep them down, and we are determined to ensure that the improvements we make are sustainable. This is not a one-off, short-term initiative. We have already started planning for next winter, and I am confident that an even better service will be provided for the hon. Gentleman's constituents next winter than the excellent service provided this year.

Question put and agreed to.

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